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.
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.