Megan Brousseau is the associate director of Inland Empire Waterkeeper, a Californian non-profit organization that is solely dedicated to ensuring swimmable, drinkable, fishable waters for the community where they operate. As for all our interviews, we started by showing her a video (see below) with testimonies of people that we collected around the world, this time speaking about water pollution. That’s how our conversation started.
20 Questions about Water: What is your first reaction to these testimonies?
Megan Brousseau: My first reaction might surprise you. My first reaction is that I am happy to hear those folks be concerned. My second reaction is that I am sad for them and I have empathy because I fear for the same things. But I am happy because people from many countries seem to be caring about water pollution and it’s extremely vital that the entire world care about it.
"Most of the pollution came with the industrial age for sure"
20QAW: Historically, has water always been polluted?
M.B.: Well it depends how far back you go historically. I mean really, there are organic and biological functions that pollute water and create situations where water sources are no longer potable, at least for a time being, but really the most pollution came with the industrial age for sure.
20QAW: At what point did it become an issue of prime importance, as we know it today?
M.B.: I think it became an issue of prime importance a hundred years before we knew it. I think we have known that it was an issue of prime importance for about the last 50 years but the factors that created this situation started about 150-200 years ago. It has really become such an issue when the population explosion and the industry explosion have brought it to a head.
20QAW: What are the main sources of pollution?
M.B.: It really depends geographically. If you are talking about the world’s oceans, then clearly it is trash. And in many of our surface waters like the Sanana River and waterways it is trash. We also have a great deal of pollution that is storm water run-off. For example, we have factories that are producing metals or producing chemicals or producing things that have by-products like that, and when the rain does come, it washes those things into the river. So it is industry and people.
Regarding the people that is the actual trash and then the things that you don’t realise you are contributing to the system when it rains, like the fertilizer on your land and the pesticides on your land and the soap you use or the oil that comes from your car.
So those are the two main things: the large solids in trash, then it is the things that you can’t necessarily see that your daily choices and habits are letting getting into the system through storm water.
"Globally there is a wonderful movement and I think it is mostly focused on individual trash"
20QAW: How is water pollution addressed today, both locally and globally?
M.B.: Well, I think globally there is a wonderful movement and I think it is mostly focused on individual trash, which is extremely important. There is gyre larger than the size of Texas floating in the south oceans. And it is absolutely contributed to by me, and by you, and by every single person that walks this earth, statistically speaking. And so globally, the movement for individual responsibility in what products we use, what trash is created by it and how well we deposit that trash or recycle it in a way that won’t end up in oceans and waterways is a global movement that is important.
I think locally because we are in California, and specifically southern California, we have legislative help with that. We have things like the “no trash policy” that says by 2030 zero trash can be put into the waterways and it is the responsibility of the government and the municipalities and the land managers and owners to make sure that happens.
I think that we have two things going on. We have the laws that will help ensure some of these things, but the laws will never be able to replace individual responsibility.
20QAW: What are some of the most effective measures currently available?
M.B.: If we are talking about individual measures like mechanisms or laws, those are all limited by geographical or legal boundaries. If we are talking globally, by far the most important and potent thing that we can do, is create stewards of the children that are coming up, that will live every day making choices that change the outcome of how much pollution is there and who are inspired to create a society that values and demands we care for our earth and our waters.
20QAW: How do you educate the children with you institute?
M.B.: From the ground up. At 5 years old we take them to the river. Many of the children have never even seen our river. We stand them in the water, we show them the animals, we let them climb the trees and roll down the hills and we tell them it is theirs. It belongs to them. And we tell them that they get to vote. They think they cannot vote until they are 18 but we explain to them that every single day the product that they choose to buy and what they choose to do with the packaging when they are done is how they are voting. And we empower kids to make choices that are right for the environment. Then they grow up to teach their children and to vote a certain way and to be responsible with their actions.
"I think we will see migration around water depending not only on where it is naturally available but also where it has been best stewarded"
20QAW: How do you see the water situation in hundred years?
M.B.: I see certain areas of the earth getting it and creating the culture that is needed to uphold a system and other areas becoming dust land and despanding because they were not able to do that in time. I think we will see migration around water depending not only on where it is naturally available but also where it has been best stewarded.