Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Sandra Postel almost didn’t answer her phone earlier this month when the caller ID showed a number from Sweden.
But the call was from the Stockholm International Water Institute, informing the Corrales author, speaker and water educator that she had been awarded the 2021 Stockholm Water Prize.
The award, often called the Nobel Prize for water, recognizes extraordinary water-related achievements.
“Water is the greatest gift on the planet,” Postel said. “We’re accustomed to managing water as a resource, but we also need to manage it as the basis of life.”
The Long Island-born water expert said she always knew she wanted to dedicate her life to helping the planet.
Her 1992 book “Last Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity” focused on how an impending global water crisis could threaten food security and political stability.
“I think the book had an impact, because 30 years ago we weren’t really recognizing that water scarcity was a global issue with major consequences,” Postel said. “We were concerned on and off about droughts in Africa and scarcity in the Middle East, but not the global water supply.”
Postel taught a water policy course at Tufts University before founding the Global Water Policy Project in 1994.
She worked with universities and conservationists to consult for groups like the World Bank and the Nature Conservancy about water management.
Postel co-founded Change the Course, an initiative which earned the 2017 U.S. Water Prize.
The program has funded nearly 100 projects for businesses to conserve water and restore water to rivers, lakes and wetlands.
The water educator traded the East Coast for the Corrales farm life before becoming a National Geographic Society Freshwater Fellow from 2009 until 2015.
Her fellowship work included a water footprint tool to educate citizens about their water use.
She also witnessed a 2014 project to allow water to temporarily flow onto the dry Colorado River Delta in northwestern Mexico. The region was once a wetland.
The project was made possible by an agreement between the U.S. and Mexico. Some of the river water reached the ocean for the first time in 50 years.
“When you think of a river having a destiny, it’s to reach the sea, and so many major rivers around the world no longer reach the sea,” Postel said. “We found a way in a time of drought and over-allocation to give water back to a river and its delta. It was a very emotional moment.”
Even as the Southwest endures a megadrought and the effects of climate change, Postel is optimistic about creative solutions.
She credits the city of Albuquerque and the Rio Grande Water Fund initiative for restoring ecosystems and working to meet water demand for humans, land and wildlife.
The global water expert has written or co-written five books and hundreds of articles and appeared in several films and series, including “Our Planet,” “Planet Earth” and Leonardo DiCaprio’s “The 11th Hour.”
The Stockholm Water Prize nominating committee said Postel’s work has been instrumental in raising awareness about water scarcity.
“No one has exhibited more commitment, capacity, courage, and perseverance to address far-ranging and critical water issues that affect both human and natural ecosystems,” the committee said.
Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf will present the prize during World Water Week in August. The celebration will likely be virtual due to the pandemic.
“This is the honor of a lifetime,” Postel said. “It’s an affirmation that the work I’ve been doing for the last 40 years has made a difference.”
Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.