No Power = Clean Water?

Editor’s Note: We’re working with our friends on NBC’s new drama Revolution to incorporate green elements — or “winks” — in every upcoming episode.

So, what’s a wink? In this context, a wink may be a verbal and/or visual cue that touches on an environmental theme. Keep an eye out for this week’s wink  the role that nature plays in keeping our freshwater supply clean and healthy.


Our lives are dependent on nature, but modern technology and conveniences make it easy for us to forget how integral it is to our survival.

For example: water does not simply emerge from the tap any more than food is produced on grocery store shelves.

Water must first fall as rain or snow and then move across land and through soil before arriving at a place where people can access it: a well, a river or a reservoir. And just as the path that food takes is critical to its safety — how it’s grown, harvested, stored, handled, transported and cleaned — water’s path is critical to its cleanliness and safety.

A few years ago, on a hike in Mexico, I passed a tributary stream with a pallid gray flow and steep eroding banks. It was choked with garbage. The stream flowed into a river that itself was a suspicious green from blooms of algae feasting on the nutrients running off of farms.

This unsafe water reflected a strained and depleted watershed, one with multiple sources of pollution that, along with degraded soils and vegetation, could no longer produce clean water. Because the land was not healthy, neither was the water.

A healthy watershed is a prerequisite for clean water, and that’s one of the (admittedly few) things the characters in Revolution have working in their favor. Their world has lost nearly all the economic activities and products that depend on power, but it also therefore lacks the attendant pollution. Along with an abundance of thriving vegetation, the water is clean enough to drink directly from the source, as we’ve seen in recent episodes.

Of course, the collapse of modern society is hardly the preferable path to clean water. We depend on power for many things, including clean water, but, ultimately clean water starts with maintaining healthy watersheds. Sure, we’ll still need wells and water treatment plants, but by maintaining this connection we can let nature do some of the work: providing cleaner water to our supply systems and lowering treatment costs.

We need to recognize that nature is the ultimate source of clean water, and prevent the destruction of the other benefits that natural systems, such as river floodplains, provide.

The first step: identifying the natural source of your water and determining its protection status. Charlie knows exactly where her water comes from. Do you? Visit to find out.

Jeff Opperman is The Nature Conservancy’s senior advisor for sustainable hydropower.

[Image courtesy of NBC.]

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