GEOG 430
Human Use of the Environment

Water in the Nexus


Water and Food:

Domestic use of water accounts for only 10% of water use globally. Agriculture is the biggest consumer of global water, almost 70%. Many of your favorite foods may have been in the news recently for the amount of water the require, as well as the social impact of the water scarcity they create. From beef, that requires more water per calorie than most other foods; to export avocado production in Chile that requires so much water that villagers are left without enough water to grow other foods; to almonds and pistachios that are fueling conflict over water in California and the Middle East alike!

Water and Energy:

Hydropower has seen a resurgence since the mid-2000s after almost a decade of near halt. The reason behind this resurgence are pressing concerns of climate change and the presentation of hydropower as ‘clean’ energy, capable of meeting the predicted increase in global energy demand. Today, there are over 3500 hydropower dams under construction or planned around the world, with the majority in South East Asia and South America.

Read more on the global hydropower boom. To date, between 40 million and 80 million people worldwide have been displaced by dams. However, the world over, the burden of displacement and livelihood loss from hydropower falls disproportionately on the indigenous peoples, tribal communities, the poor, and the politically marginalized. Apart from the economic hardships that hydropower brings to displaced communities, it also has significant impacts on their social and cultural wellbeing. In flooding places out of existence, dams also destroy ‘the sense of place’ of communities (Windsor & Mcvey, 2005). This sense of place reflects a deep emotional tie between the people and the location, and impact the value, which may or may not be monetary, that people assign to the place.

Hydropower projects also have massive impacts on the river ecology, which has negative impacts of local community livelihoods, especially fishing communities. The impact of the local economy as a result of hydropower projects impacts the economic, social and cultural wellbeing of the communities, but also impacts the health of the communities through changes in food choices and consumption patterns. As Waldram (1985) finds in the case of the Whitefish Lake community in Canada, the impact of hydropower development damaged the local resource base and the local economy, which resulted in an increase in social assistance payments to the community, and a decline in consumption of fish and bush meat, while the simultaneous increase in infrastructure such as electricity, television, roads, stores, etc. resulted in a switching to the consumption of less nutritious store-bought food and refined carbohydrates.

There are many other ways water and energy are interrelated; for example oil and gas extraction may contaminate water sources and solar panels require washing to remove dust and maintain energy production! 


Windsor, J. E., & Mcvey, J. A. (2005). Annihilation of Both Place and Sense of Place: The Experience of the Cheslatta T’En Canadian First Nation with the Context of Large-Scale Environmental Projects. The Geographical Journal, 171(2), 146–165. 

Waldram’s article here: Waldram, J. B. (1985). Hydroelectric Development and Dietary Delocalization in Northern Manitoba, Canada. Human Organization, 44(1), 41–49.