What is water worth?

Water holds a different value for every creature, culture and climate yet there’s no question it’s one of our planet’s most valuable resources.

For 28 years, the United Nations has celebrated World Water Day on March 22. Most UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) revolve around healthy water, including SDG 6 (ensuring clean water and sanitation) and SDG 14 (protecting life below water).

In South Florida and around the world, FIU Institute of Environment researchers are studying the value of water, how to conserve it and how to keep our rivers, streams, oceans and bay healthy not just for people but for aquatic life, too.

For World Water Day 2021, the UN is focusing on five values of water.

  • Valuing water sources. All of our ecosystems are connected by one free-flowing resource: water. Without it, many of our favorite places would not exist and many of the creatures living in those places would disappear.

One of the most unique water-dependent ecosystems in the world is right in our backyard—the Florida Everglades.

John Kominoski, principal investigator of the FIU-led Florida Coastal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research program, works to ensure that the flow of water in the River of Grass keeps up with climate change and management practices. Funding for the FCE LTER was recently renewed for four years by the National Science Foundation.

Protecting the backbone of the Everglades, studying hurricane impacts on the national park and understanding how the ecosystem remembers disturbances, are only a few ways the institute values our water sources.

  • Valuing water infrastructure. Our planet’s infrastructure is built with water in mind. Dams and levees often redirect water from its natural route so it reaches those most in need, while coastal ports greet those who travel the vast oceans.

Flooding and sea level rise, meanwhile, are threatening existing infrastructure in Miami and across the world. Institute scientists are working with decision-makers to provide groundwater and hydrologic modeling solutions, and to teach our future scientists, to respond to these threats.

  • Valuing water services. The health of billions of people depends on the services that provide safe potable water, as well as working sanitation systems.

More than 2 billion people around the globe lack access to reliable sanitation services. FIU, through the Global Water for Sustainability Program (GLOWS), led a $70 million initiative in three continents aimed at delivering clean water and sanitation to communities in 10 developing countries.

Citizen science efforts and enhanced water technologies are becoming increasingly sophisticated and prevalent. Students and scientists at the institute use magnets, sensor-equipped buoys and partner with the private yachting community to help clean up water resources.

  • Valuing water as an input to production and socio-economic activity. Water isn’t only important to health and the environment – it is also a key player in our economy. Our water basins are home to many important economic staples, like fish and crustacean.

Protecting the Amazon River Basin for the 33 million people who rely on the river as a primary source of food and income is also a priority for the institute.

The economy in many ways is inseparable from water. Fisheries, tourism, dining and agriculture must all be considered to paint an accurate picture of water’s worth. Water security, too, is important. In an effort to promote safeguarding water resources worldwide, FIU is advancing Cybersecurity for Water Security with partners across the globe.

  • Valuing water’s socio-cultural aspects. While the waterways of the world are a key source of income for many who live by their banks, they also connect people through shared lived experiences.

Africa’s Nile River finds itself at a crossroads. FIU Earth and Environment Professor Assefa Melesse and the Institute of Environment UNESCO Chair on Sustainable Water Security foster conversations among scientists from Nile countries about ongoing projects in the watershed’s nations, like the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and the socio-cultural experiences of the people of the Nile.

Another iconic waterway is Biscayne Bay. A beloved landmark in Miami-Dade County, it evokes a strong sense of affection for those who grew up around its shores. It provides warm and nostalgic memories. But it is in trouble. When fish turned up dead at its shores last August, institute scientists were the first to respond.

Water is linked to our emotions and our connections to others. That’s why keeping our waterways healthy is so important. Whether growing flowers in urban canals or cleaning up plastics from our oceans, the water we come in contact with has a larger impact on our cultures and communities.

Join us on Monday, March 22 by posting about what water means to you on social media. Tag @FIUEnvironment and @FIUCASE and use the hashtag #Water2Me.