Who Owns Water?

Explore the interrelationship between our most precious natural resource and ourselves.
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September 19, 2016 - October 30, 2016
Climate Change, Earth: Inside and Out, Evolution, The Ocean System, Space, Time and Motion, Water
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Authoring Scientists

Eleanor Sterling
Conservation Biologist
Dr. Sterling is the Director of the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation.
Nora Bynum
Conservation Biologist
Dr. Bynum is Project Director of the Network of Conservation Educators and Practitioners.

About the Course

Water—its location, condition, and use—is a critical environmental issue. Central to all ecosystems, water is essential to life as we know it. It shapes our planet on every level, from the chemical properties of the H2O molecule to the central role of water in global climate. This course will focus on why water is such a critical resource, the impact of human consumption on aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and the social, economic, and environmental implications of water management. Along with a solid grasp of these water-related issues, students should come away grounded in the science that underlies all environmental studies. They will be able to: understand the interrelationships between living things and the ecosystems they inhabit; analyze environmental problems caused by changing natural conditions and by human activity; and evaluate ways to resolve and/or prevent these problems. Read more.

Key Science Concepts

Water circulates through Earth systems via underground aquifers; estuaries and bays; rivers and streams; lakes, ponds and reservoirs; wetlands; ocean and coastal shorelines; and the atmosphere.

A fragile and complex network of living things depends upon a very limited supply of freshwater. Growing human populations and demands on this resource are creating a host of social, economic, environmental and political challenges on scales that range from local to global.

Historically, humans have coped with local scarcity by drawing upon water resources, including non-renewable groundwater, by building dams, digging wells, and otherwise diverting surface water. When natural flows are altered, humans and other species that depend on the natural system suffer.

Rivers, lakes, and wetlands provide essential and typically irreplaceable ecosystem services. These include water purification, habitat support, hydropower, transportation and recreation. A critical link between land and water, wetlands play a key role in filtering pollutants, protecting drinking water and supporting rich biodiversity.

Water pollution from human settlement, industry and agriculture—including the nutrient pollution of eutrophication—threatens the health of humans, other living creatures, and the ecosystems themselves.

Water allocation rather than absolute scarcity lies at the heart of many water problems. Responsible water stewardship, especially across international borders, poses an array of social, environmental, economic and political challenges. Technologies such as desalination, drip irrigation, and water reuse hold promise.

Scientists are encouraging water management plans that replace a sector-by-sector approach with an integrated approach that emphasizes conservation and reuse, and which balances the need for development against the vital importance of clean water and healthy ecosystems.

Course Textbook

Environmental Science: Earth as a Living Planet
Author: Daniel B. Botkin and Edward A. Keller
Publisher: Wiley
Edition: March 2009
Hardcover: 752 pages
ISBN: 0470118555
Buy online: Amazon

Graduate Credit

This course is approved for graduate credit and continuing education units from leading institutions at an additional cost. Read more.

Adams State UniversityCity University of New YorkFramingham State UniversityHamline UniversityNorthwest Missouri State UniversityWestern Governors University

Related Courses

Interested in more from Seminars on Science? Consider these related offerings:

Climate Change
Earth and Environmental Science
Earth: Inside and Out
Dynamic Earth Systems

Course Preview

Explore an interactive map of the Colorado River, read about New York City's drinking water, and explore a sample discussion.

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"I really valued the opportunity to look at water issues from a variety of standpoints."
—high school earth science teacher
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73% of educators say this course was more valuable than professional development available at the local level.

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