The Story of Water: Part 4, The Shapeshifter

Jackson Creek in winter, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

Conflicts over water are nothing new; but they are escalating worldwide. “We see thousands of years of examples where water has been a source of tension in one form or another … but violence related to water is growing, not shrinking”, says Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, an independent US research centre. The Water Stress Index, created by UK risk analysis firm Maplecroft, confirms that the combustible Middle East currently experiences the highest water-stress.

Grassy wetland in winter, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

Israel and Palestinians quarrel over access to the River Jordan. Egyptians, Sudanese, and Ethiopians squabble over the Nile. Conflict brews between India and Pakistan over the dams built over the tributaries of the Indus River. Iraq and Syria target the other’s water resources in a dangerously escalating conflict. Paul Reig, water expert with the World Resources Institute, a US conservation organization, predicts more clashes of interests: “Water is likely to cause the most conflict in areas where new demands for energy and food production will compete with the water required for basic domestic needs of a rapidly growing population.” It is already strategically used as a tactical weapon by warring organizations such as Isis Islamic rebels, Iraqi troops, Kurdish forces, Syrian armies and others in this semi-arid region. Studies reported in Science Daily predict that our global population will not have enough water to meet demand by 2040 and that at least 33 countries will face extremely high water stress in less than twenty-five years.

Farm during an early heavy snowfall, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

Conflict over water encompasses a fractal progression that spans international and political to ethnic, economic and individual interests and dichotomies. “Rather than India versus Pakistan, it’s Karnataka versus Tamil Nadu over the allocation of a river that is shared between those two states,” says Gleick. In Mexico City, citizens clash with police over a diversion of their volcanic natural spring well to satisfy the thirst of Mexico City’s higher taxpaying population. Multinational corporations often exacerbate tensions as they mine and export water for profit out of an already stressed watershed.

Ice frazil forms on regulated Otonabee River in mid-winter, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

I recall Roman Polanski’s film Chinatown in 1974 and being struck by the premise and theme: the willingness of politicians and developers to murder for the right to bring water to the American southwest. The film drew inspiration from real life. In early twentieth century California, Water Wars ensued, when most of the water was surreptitiously siphoned off the Owens River to provide unlimited water to the Los Angeles basin. Owens valley farmers dynamited the aqueducts that took their water to Los Angeles, prompting the city to send in guards with guns to guard its infrastructure. California currently faces historic drought and record water shortages, which many blame on climate change – an inaccurate, incomplete and dangerous claim.

Snow-covered reeds poke out of lower marsh of Thompson Creek, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

My short story The Way of Water is a dire – and hopefully entirely fictitious – representation of a “what if” scenario based on several very real incidents:  

  • Mike Adams of Natural News reported in 2010 that collecting rainwater is now illegal in several states of the USA. Utah, Washington and Colorado have outlawed individuals from collecting rainwater on their own properties because, according to officials, that rain belongs to someone else. In 2015 thousands of citizens in two of America’s poorest cities, Detroit and Baltimore, had their water shut off for being behind on their water bills (which had been sharply increased). Both are inhumane examples of government-imposed oppression over what should be a public and free resource: water.
  • Canada is blessed with both a low relative population and 20% of the world’s total freshwater. Even with half of this water – about 7%of the global supply – being renewable (most is fossil water locked in lakes, underground aquifers and glaciers), this remains an attractive supply for a thirsty neighbour.
  • Waukesha, Wisconsin wants to replenish its diminishing aquifer with Lake Michigan water (one of the International Great Lakes that borders United States and Canada); Canadians have refused, on the basis that this may spark further tensions between the two countries over water conservation, diversion, export and use.
  • Canada’s ambassador to the United States, Gary Doer, calls water the new oil and predicts that water debates and disputes between Canada and the USA will escalate. He suggested several hotspots between the two nations including: the St. Lawrence Seaway to Lake of the Woods, which borders Ontario, Manitoba and Minnesota.
  • According to Gary Mason of The Globe and Mail, with drought a very real concern in many states of USA, “some believe that the moment an ounce of our water is exported south, it will become subject to the provisions of the North American free-trade agreement. And that once that tap is turned on, there may be no stopping it – Canada’s water resources will suddenly become a U.S. national security concern.”
  • Meanwhile, the Chinese aggressively experiment with “weather modification” to combat severe air pollution and water scarcity, incurring accusations from neighbouring countries of “stealing” precipitation. The Chinese currently make 55 billion tons of artificial rain a year. Respected researchers join conspiracy theorists in their concerns over U.S. military HAARP’s use of electromagnetic frequencies in weather modification. Alleged activities include the ability to disrupt global communications, cause earthquakes and tsunamis, and other impacts to the water cycle.
Thompson Creek marsh during an early winter heavy first snowfall, ON (photo and rendition by Nina Munteanu)

This article and those that follow in this series is an excerpt from “Water Is…The Meaning of Water” (Pixl Press, 2016) and “The Story of Water” essay that accompanies the fiction story “La natura dell’acqua—The Way of Water” (Mincione Edizioni, 2016). Both books are available on Amazon, Kobo, and quality bookstores near you.

Water Is…The Meaning of Water”: Part history, part science and part philosophy and spirituality, this biography of water combines personal journey with scientific discovery that explores water’s many identities and ultimately our own. Written by internationally published author, teacher and limnologist Nina Munteanu. Recommended by Margaret Atwood in The New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ for 2016.

La natura dell’acqua—The Way of Water”: This bilingual short story and essay (English and Italian) is a vision of the near future that explores the implications of corruption and deception of companies and government together with conflicts over resources. Ecologist Nina Munteanu examines humanity in the face of climate change and our changing relationships with technology and nature.

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press(Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.

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