Water Blog - WaterStep

Water is Medicine

Kenya - health education #1

Guest bloggers Mark Hogg and Wallace J. Nichols are jazzed about the Global Missions Health Conference from November 5 – 7. They each  shared what they mean when they say, “Water is Medicine.


Mark Hogg
Founder & CEO of WaterStep


Because the human body is made mostly of water, it’s not difficult to imagine the importance of both the quantity and quality of water that is available to us on a daily basis. I had the honor of meeting Dr. J Nichols at the recent IF Water event a the Water Tower in Louisville, KY sponsored by WaterStep. J, as he prefers to be called, was our keynote speaker and in his latest book, Blue Mind, he dives deep, uncovering the latest research about water and defining its nurturing and healing power.

“Water is Medicine” may best be understood when living in a world where the risk of waterborne illness is a daily fear. When the water source is trusted it’s easy to underestimate the impact of a healthy dose of this life giving sustenance. Unfortunately, in many areas of the world, water sources are contaminated with bacteria, metals and chemicals that compromise human health. Over 660 million people around the world lack access to safe clean water.

As safe water access and quality are among the greatest concerns in the world, now is the time for action to address the global water crisis with innovation, ownership and compassion.

Dr. “J” Nichols travels the world to tell his Blue Mind story and the ability of water to heal, and make us healthier and happier. As a symbol of awareness, J hands out blue marbles as a reminder of the power of water and its healing properties. The blue marble is a symbol of awareness and gratitude for all of us to become more water-minded and engage in the power of life.

This week, Louisville is host to the Global Missions Health Conference at Southeast Christian Church. Waterstep is honored to be exhibiting at the conference to teach how providing safe, clean water can serve as medicine for an ailing world. Mission work around the world relies on access to clean, safe water and WaterStep provides the tools and training to achieve the work of missionaries.

So join us at WaterStep. Pick up your blue marble and pass on the message “Water Is Medicine”.


 Wallace J. Nichols, PhD
Author and Researcher of Blue Mind


Jay“Pure water is the world’s first and foremost medicine.” ~ Slovakian Proverb

What if water could help boost creativity, reduce stress, and increase happiness? What if it soothed achy muscles, improved healing, lowered blood pressure and increased circulation? You might wonder if it was some kind of snake oil scam. The reality is that clean and wild waters in all forms offer medically proven health, healing and nurture more affordably and accessibly than any substance on our planet.

While water is no magic bullet or stand-alone cure to the maladies facing humanity, when water is used complementarily it can enhance other physical and mental health therapies and treatments, reduce pain and speed recovery.

On a recent visit to Louisville, Kentucky I was fortunate to spend time with Mark Hogg, founder and CEO of WaterStep. I toured their facility and learned about how their simple water technologies, procedures and health-hygiene education brings safe water to remote communities around the world. We discussed how hygiene and hydration are always first and foremost on the path to improved health. Without clean water for drinking, washing and cooking, there simply is no life. But our conversation went deeper, as always seems to be the case with Mark because he and the team at WaterStep believe Water Is Medicine.

Here is a brief summary of common human maladies and how water provides healing power:

Addiction – Our brains can become addicted to almost anything: drugs, alcohol, gambling, over-eating and technology to name a few. The good news is that we can also become addicted to activities that don’t cause our health and personal lives to unravel. A number of water-based sports such as sailing, surfing, paddling, swimming and fishing have been used as replacements for the bad stuff. More good news is that the side effects are few and the after-effect is pure stoke, a blissed out feeling also referred to as “blue mind.” Programs are popping up around the world that replace one dopamine-seeking activity with another, saving lives and families alike.

Anxiety – Disorders related to anxiety represent another category where water comes in handy. Van Curaza, a former pro surfer and addict, runs Operation Surf in Califormia, where his team works closely with veterans suffering from post traumatic stress to learn how to surf and relieve anxiety. Groups like Heroes on the Water employ kayak fishing to achieve the same ends. The results are encouraging for those who participate. Veterans report improved sleep, lower anxiety levels and a new purpose in life following water therapy. Another area where preliminary results are promising involves floatation in salt water as used in the treatment of both PTS and eating disorders. Author Emily Kate Noren tells her story of curing her eating disorders in “Unsinkable” and Neuroscientist Dr. Justin Feinstein at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa, Oklahoma is leading a program that pairs state of the art brain scanning with floatation. Preliminary results are being processed and should be widely reported within the year.

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Ailments – Some sixty percent of modern ailments and illnesses are related to stress. This is partly because stress increases cortisol which promotes inflammation, slowing the healing process. Here’s a partial list, from head to toe of stress related infirmities:

Brain and nerves: Headaches, feelings of despair, lack of energy, sadness, nervousness, anger, irritability, trouble concentrating, memory problems, double sleeping, anxiety, depression.

Skin: Acne, psoriasis and other skin problems.

Muscles and joints: Muscle aches and pension (especially in the neck, shoulders and
back), increased risk of reduced bone density.

Heart: Faster heartbeat, rise in blood pressure, increased risk of high cholesterol and
heart attack.

Stomach: Nausea, stomach pain, heartburn, weight gain.

Intestines: Diarrhea, constipation and other digestive problems.

Reproductive system: For women, irregular or more painful periods, reduced sexual
desire; for men, impotence, lower sperm production, reduced sexual desire.

Immune system: Lowered ability to fight or recover from illness.

Studies show that proximity to water (rivers, streams, beaches, aquariums) can significantly increase relaxation. Treatments for virtually all of the ailments listed can be supported by water-based therapy. Exercise in water provides the support many rehab and aging patients need and is well documented as a leading form of prevention and recovery.


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At Risk Populations – Individuals, including youth, post-rehab patients and prisoners are often considered at risk or vulnerable for a variety of reasons. Spending extended periods of time on the water has proven an effective “last chance” therapy for teens on the verge of incarceration. Ocean Wilderness Therapy programs in Hawaii and projects like Soul River in Oregon reconnect young people to wild waters. Water-based therapies have proven effective as part of programs designed to help recovered addicts avoid relapses. “Blue rooms” are being experimented with in solitary confinement units in prisons, reducing injury to both inmates and staff. Used in conjunction with other time-proven approaches water-based therapies show strong promise.

Attention Deficit – The inability to focus and sustain attention leads to ADHD, memory issues, problem solving, critical thinking and can impede the creative process. The late neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks wrote: “There is something about being in water and swimming which alters my mood, gets my thoughts going, as nothing else can ….. theories and stories would construct themselves in my mind as I swam to and fro, or round and round…sentences and paragraphs would write themselves in my mind, and at such times I would have to come to shore every so often to discharge them.” Dr. Sacks was a brilliant thinker and writer. For him to claim that some of his best ideas came to him while in water should grab your attention.

Musician Pharrell Williams said water is where he first discovered his love for music: “through the motion of water…my imagination ran wild.” Artists, musicians, scientists and people working out of all kinds of problems have turned to water to loosen the creative process. The next time you’re stuck, try walking or sitting near water, a dip or a swim, even a bath or shower, and see if it doesn’t move the gears and get new ideas flowing. Be warned, keep a notebook and pen handy.

Attitude – Many educational programs exist that take students on field trips to our many lakes, rivers and oceans. While there kids learn about animals, the water cycle and ecology. We can also teach them that these waterways can help them manage anger, increase self-esteem, develop leadership, deepen friendships, and boost creativity. Healthy, wild waterways can therefore help people stay in school, maintain healthy relationships, further their careers, and even stay out of jail.

Autism – At thirteen years old Naoki Higashida found that none of the books he had read about autism accurately described the experience from his perspective, so he wrote his own book. “The Reason I Jump” became a New York Times bestseller. In it he describes his relationship with water: “In the water it’s so quiet and I’m so free and happy there. Outside of the water there’s always too much stimulation for our eyes and our ears and it’s impossible for us to guess how long one second is or how long an hour takes. If only we could go back to that distant, distant watery past—then we’d be able to live as contentedly and as freely as you.” Water is not a cure for autism and not all people have the same experience as Naoki, but wherever I go I encounter similar stories. Water provides relief, joy, moments of peace, a break the cacophony for those across the rustic spectrum.

Access to Water – For water to work as medicine patients and care givers need access. Proximity, contamination and cultural perceptions can limit access to safe water. Organizations like WaterStep play a critical role in ensuring that people have access to clean, safe water. Water gives us hygiene and hydration and is the basis of a healthy economy but it also provides a medicine chest for healing. Water gives us life and healthy waterways make our lives worth living.

Add water to your teaching and parenting tool box, first aid kit and make it a central part of your personal health and well-being regime. Water truly is medicine.




“Blue Mind” by Wallace “J” Nichols, PhD at www.wallacejnichols.org

Heroes on the Water at www.heroesonthewater.org

Ocean Wilderness Therapy: Marimed.org

Operation Surf at www.amazingsurfadventures.org

Soul River Runs Deep at www.soulriverrundsdeep.com

Surfer’s Healing at www.surfershealing.org

“The Reason I Jump” by Naoki Higashida

“Unsinkable” by Emily Kate Noren at www.emilykatenoren.com

IF Water 2015

WaterStep IF Water

What’s your water?

That was the opening question asked by Dr. Wallace J. Nichols at Louisville Water Tower during the 2015 IF Water event, an affiliate of the annual Idea Festival that explores topics and trends about water and is sponsored by WaterStep. The marine biologist turned New York Times best-selling author of “Blue Mind” spoke to a crowd of approximately 175 about the cognitive, emotional, psychological and social value of water—something he believes often gets overshadowed by talk about the more quantifiable values like ecology, biodiversity, business, health and hydration that water provides.

“Both are important,” says Nichols. “You need hydration, but you need that feeling of awe to make life worth living.”

Water is awe-inspiring. It is romantic, or recreational, or relaxing, or refreshing, or whatever else we make it. Nichols asked audience members to expand their thinking about the power and meaning of water in their lives. Is your water a lake where you stand with a friend and fish for hours while having great conversation? Is it a nearby creek whose sounds help lull you to sleep? Is it the dew on the leaves of the plants you see every morning when walking out your door into the world? Is it soaking in a bathtub after a stressful day?

“You never hear the good things,” joked Nichols to the water professionals in the room. “Nobody ever calls to say, ‘Hey, thanks. I had a good shower today. We only get the bad calls. … But there is a role for gratitude and love.”

If all this sounds “hippy dippy,” it shouldn’t. Nichols explained that neuroscience has begun exploring the connections between humans and water. Just as scientists have begun exploring the science of stress or the power of meditation, Nichols believes we might someday understand why so many people are drawn to and captivated by bodies of water.

WaterStep IF Water WaterStep IF Water

He believes the first step is acknowledging a personal connection to water. That can help motivate people to take better care of our wild waterways, better appreciate the infrastructure required to bring water into people’s homes, and lead to more whole lives overall. Nichols added that Louisville is blessed to have features like the Big Four Bridge and Crescent Hill Gatehouse and Reservoir to give people opportunities to be near water.

Prior to his talk at IF Water, Nichols toured water-related places and spaces around the city. He toured WaterStep to learn about the nonprofit’s efforts around the world. Louisville Water helped him travel the route our water takes—from the intake pumps at the pumping stations on Zorn Avenue, down to the Crescent Hill Filtration Plant and beyond. Nichols also toured MSD’s Morris Foreman Water Quality Treatment Center to see how used water is filtered, treated and released back into the ecosystem. He said seeing this process was enlightening because when it comes to water, access is everything.

At WaterStep, this is something we see people struggling with on a daily basis. Millions of people lack access to safe water, and that’s why we work to provide that basic necessity to people who thirst around the world. Dr. Nichols’ famous greeting is “I wish you water,” and we copy those sentiments whole-heartedly.

The Global Goals: Why Water Matters

Global Goals Safe Water

“Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.”

Goal #6 of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development is one that WaterStep has been working towards for 20 years and will continue to work for until the day that every person has access to safe water. The Global Goals are a list of 17 goals that world leaders have agreed to work towards by the year 2030.

So why is safe water so important anyway?

Globally, waterborne illnesses are a leading cause of sickness and death. More people die every year from diseases caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation than from armed conflict. Children are the most vulnerable, a child dies every 60 seconds from diarrheal diseases.

The good news is that there is a solution. Water purification partnered with health and hygiene practices can save lives, and WaterStep has seen it firsthand in communities around the world. The number one target for Goal #6 is to achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030. During WaterStep’s time as an organization, the number of people without access to water has already shrunk from more than 748 million to 663 million, thanks to the combined work of organizations around the world who fight unsafe water.

That number will only continue to decrease as WaterStep joins with organizations around the world to provide simple solutions to unsafe water and make access to water, hygiene, and sanitation easier for more people. There is still work to be down, but as WaterStep celebrates 20 years as an organization, we are standing with a united effort to bring safe water to every single person on the planet.

Learn more about Global Goal #6.


Global Goals Water

Give Local Louisville 2015


Happy Give Local Louisville day! If you have ever considered donating to safe water projects, today is a great day to start.


We are excited to join with other nonprofits around the city as Louisvillians shows how compassionate they are. Today, October 1st, when you give to WaterStep, your donations could be multiplied by a local match pool as a part of Give Local Louisville.


Today also marks the start of WaterStep’s Seven Days of Giving. From October 1st – October 8th, we will be giving away one prize a day to donors to countdown to our 20 Year Birthday Party on October 8th! The prizes will be announced each morning, so be sure to start by following us on Twitter and liking us on Facebook.


During last year’s Give Local Louisville, you donated a total of $23,858 that all went to water projects in the Philippines. Let’s see what we can accomplish together this year and save lives with safe water.


You can go to our Give Local Louisville page and donate today. 

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The Power of Long-Term Commitment to Costa Rica

Costa Rica WaterStep Safe WAter

WaterStep first began work in Costa Rica in 2001. For 14 years, WaterStep has worked primarily in the central highlands and the Pacific coast, focusing in the provinces of Guanacaste, Cartago, Heredia and San Jose. Project locations have included churches, schools, feeding centers, or other community centers.

2015 has been no different. So far this year, WaterStep has led 5 trips to various regions of Costa Rica and still has one more trip this fall. 

These continued efforts rely on the work of WaterStep staff alongside local partners who are dedicated to bringing safe water to their communities. A team of four Costa Ricans serve as WaterStep’s “boots on the ground.” They call themselves CREWS, Costa Rican Expert WaterSteppers. The leader of CREWS, Ana Lorena Cespedes, scouts out project locations, performs community assessments and tests water, while other members make minor repairs and answer technical questions – most importantly, all four help to build and maintain strong local relationships. Consistent communication with a larger network of church leaders, school directors, and community leaders allows WaterStep to leverage its effectiveness. 

On WaterStep’s most recent trip to Costa Rica, a team of 20 from Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Canada completed three successful water purification installations in Santa Maria at two elementary schools and a mission house that will bring safe water access to their communities for years to come.

Trip leaders and WaterStep staff, Kurtis and Claudia Daniels led the group of volunteers during the 7 day trip. After they sent the team back to Kentukcy and Canada, they continued on to a fourth location in Esterillos to help provide safe water to people in need. 

Costa Rica WaterStep Safe Water 2

Their friends, who are missionaries working with Pura Vida Church in Costa Rica, were in need of safe water for the community in the area where they worked. That next Sunday, they attended the church to worship, surveyed the sight, made a materials list and returned the next day to begin working. Along with the help of local partners, Kurtis and Claudia installed a water purification system and educated leaders of Pura Vida Church, the local water company and the community leaders how to use it. Because they were able to stay those extra few days, even more people were provided with access to safe water.

Over the years of WaterStep’s work in Costa Rica, hundreds of volunteers, dozens of local partners, and many financial supporters have provided safe water to thousands. The sustainability of these projects is evident in the continued relationships between in-country partners and the WaterStep staff. Even when unexpected opportunities arise, the WaterStep staff is prepared to equip locals and provide whatever they need to access safe water for years to come.

Read more about Costa Rica!