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Washington State University
CAS Connect October 2013

Remaking our freshwater future

2013 Lane Lecture

The human story over the next couple of decades is going to be a water story, said Sandra Postel, National Geographic freshwater fellow and one of the leading authorities on freshwater. “But the narrative of that story is still being written,” she added. “It’s not a foregone conclusion, and that narrative is being [revised] every day by the choices we make about how we use and manage and value and think about freshwater.”

Sandra Postel, National Geographic  freshwater fellow
Sandra Postel, National Geographic
freshwater fellow

Postel visited the Pullman campus and presented “Water Is the New Oil” to a packed house at the WSU Compton Union Building auditorium during the 2013 Lane Family Lecture on September 19.

Postel, who is also the founder and director of the Global Water Policy Project, introduced the topic of water scarcity with a look at how much water is embedded in human beings’ daily lives. It takes 700 gallons of water to make a cotton T-shirt, she said. Most of the water goes into watering and producing the cotton. It takes 600 gallons of water to make a typical feedlot-produced hamburger.

“Everything we buy and use and eat takes water to make,” she said. Since the 1960s groundwater depletion rates have nearly doubled and Postel believes water will be to the twenty-first century what oil was the twentieth century. “So what do we do?” she asked the audience of nearly 500 in attendance and watching via live online streaming.

She discussed how taking steps to slow the pace of climate change, population growth, and consumption can help provide enough water to sustain both human beings and nature’s ecosystems. As a part of her work on the “Change the Course” campaign with National Geographic, she helped develop a water footprint calculator people can use as a small step to measure consumption and contribute to conservation.

“We are all in this pond; we are all in this finite water supply together,” she said during the lecture. “Figuring out solutions that can work for everyone and sharing those is hugely important.”

Sandra Postel, 2013 Lane Lecture speaker
Sandra Postel, 2013 Lane Lecture speaker

Postel’s lecture was part of the Lane Family Lecture in Environmental Science series made possible by a gift from Bill Lane and his wife Jean. The lecture is organized and hosted by the WSU School of the Environment, a unique joint program between the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. Previous speakers have included Jane Goodall, David Suzuki, and Cecil Andrus.

The Lanes’ son, Robert Lane (’83), has also established an endowed fellowship fund to support graduate students studying environmental science at WSU.  The Lane Fellows, as they are collectively known, had an opportunity to meet with Postel prior to the lecture.

See photos of the lecture at