Episode 132: Solving the Global Safe Drinking Water Crisis with Blue Planet Run

Listen Now
RSS: Subscribe
RSS: iTunes

GreenTalk Radio host Sean Daily talks with Sabrina Walasek of Blue Planet Run Foundation, which has a vision of a world where everyone has access to safe drinking water and healthy human beings have a chance to live up to their potential.


Sean Daily:  Hi and welcome to “Green Talk”, a podcast series from greenlivingideas.com.

“Green Talk” helps listeners, in their efforts to live more ecofriendly lifestyles, through interviews with top vendors, authors, and experts from around the world. We discuss the critical issues facing the global environment today, as well as the technologies, products, and practices that you can employ to go greener in every area of your life.

Hey everybody this is Sean Daily. Welcome to another episode of Green Talk Radio. It is good to be back. I was on a short vacation and we’re very happy to be back.

We have a very exciting episode today on a very important topic, which is clean safe drinking water for the planet.

I am just going to go over a few facts here that most people don’t realize about drinking water. Most of us really take it for granted.

I don’t know if most of you know this, but 1.1 billion lack access to an improved water supply. That’s approximately 1 in 6 people on earth.

2.6 billion people in the world lack access to improve sanitation. Less than 1% of the world’s fresh water, which is about 0.007% of all water on earth, is readily accessible for direct human use.

A person can live weeks without food, but only days without water. And one person needs 4 to 5 gallons of water per day to survive.

So we have this crisis which we’re not feeling it in all parts of the world, certainly not in most parts of the United States, but it is a major issue. So my guest today on the program to discuss this with me is from an organization whose mission is really to deal with this in a very unique way. Her name is Sabrina Walasek. The organization is the Blue Planet Run foundation at blueplanetrun.org,

Sabrina is the program director for Blue Planet Run. She is a former science teacher and educational content developer.

Sabrina welcome to the program.

Sabrina Walasek: Thanks so much Sean.

Sean: Well, it is good to have you. So why don’t we just jump right in. Tell me what is the Blue Planet Run foundation.

Sabrina: Sure. The Blue Planet Run Foundation is a non profit and as you mentioned we are working to spread awareness and raise funds to bring safe drinking water to the 1 billion plus people who don’t have it today.

Sean: So tell me exactly how you guys are doing that.

Sabrina: Well, we go about it in a variety of ways. We have a lot of support from runners and athletes, but we also have supporter who don’t run. Primarily, we started last year, in 2007; we did an event that was the relay around the world, the first one ever. We had 21 elite runners who ran for 95 consecutive days and it covered 15,200 miles. Their mission was to help inform the world about the water crisis and, also, to motivate people to do something about it.

So we have some very strong advocates in that arena and we found that, from a grassroots perspective, people are really coming out of the  woodwork and everybody wants to help in any way that they can. So it’s been a very exciting time.

As you mentioned, a lot of Americans can still turn on their tap and they don’t really see the crisis. But I think it’s actually becoming more and more apparent as we are facing some of our own issues.

We have a faith based organizations, schools, individuals, community groups. Everybody is realizing that they can give a small amount and make a huge difference.

Sean: Yeah, I mean, a lot of people say that really clean safe drinking water is going to be the canary in the coal mine for global problems before other things, the results of global warming,  and from carbon missions, and things like this. A lot of people say, well the real crisis is happening more immediately with regards to water and the availability thereof.

I know that people, like the guy that invented the segue, is now on this issue as seeing it as more important than personal transportation that this is really… I am not thinking of his name at the moment.--But I know that just in general a lot of people who are in the know are saying this is where we need to be putting our global efforts right now or at least a large part of them.

Sabrina: Yeah.

Sean: You mentioned the running. So I am just wondering, is it sort of the model is that people are sponsoring these runners that are running around the world, so it is basically a sponsorship type thing?

Sabrina: It was a one time event in 2207, but we are planning to hopefully have another run, that goes through the fifty states, next year. And in addition to that, we have some grassroots programs. People really are very creative about how they can support our effort and the water projects around the world.

So it’s not just running. It can be…we have had people put on bake sales and the whole gamete. We also have a book that we sell. It just recently won a award and we can talk about that a little later. But it’s really a matter of finding what makes sense to you as an individual and how would you want to support our efforts.

Sean: OK. But it seems like, I mean from the name, obviously, Blue Planet Run, and from the website, it seems like that at least the genesis of this organization was this idea of doing the sponsor run.

Sabrina: Absolutely!

Sean: Yeah. So you mentioned that there were 21 elite runners that did the original run. Are these professional runners or are these everyday Joes that are more in the marathoner category?

Sabrina: Yeah, they were just regular people. There was a series of qualifications. They needed to leave their lives for 95 days, so…

Sean: Wow.

Sabrina: They are just regular people. They are amazing. Obviously, many of them have trained to run long distances. They weren’t celebrities, but they are now, for us.

Sean. Yeah.  So in moving forward with future events are you planning on a smaller number of runners? Or do you have future plans for more races that, maybe, involve more people or the same people? What is the situation there?

Sabrina: Well we are really hoping that we can do, as I mentioned, the 50 state run throughout the US. But in addition to that, after this run I think we have really tapped into something where we have people who put on races on their own. We have had students, some of our runners have had contact with family members and friends, and other groups have developed their own races and have spread the word for us. So it is actually catching on at a grassroots level.

But we definitely plan to continue to host runs. So it will be exciting to see where it all pans out.

Sean: And I see on your website, on the blueplanetrun.org website, you’ve also got a  ‘row for water’ event that is happening, as well. 

Sabrina: Yeah, that was one of those that just…This is a young woman by the name of Katie Spots. She goes to college in North Carolina. I had the opportunity to meet her at one of our trail runs this spring and this is her own personal challenge. She wants to row across the Atlantic and she wants to give half of the money that she raises to our foundation to help build water projects.

Sean: That’s great.

So I am just curious, Sabrina, why did you choose water as the focus of your efforts in the organization over other causes.

Sabrina. As you mentioned, it’s the number one human need. And,  unfortunately,  people are really suffering unnecessarily. It doesn’t require the long term research that cancer or Aids or HIV does, so I think  the founder really cam to the realization that the solutions are here, we could irradiate this problem without a great deal of research or money.

It really tends to be the basics. It’s people who just don’t have a well  or you can put up a rain harvesting system for them. Obviously, you need an education, but it is not rocket science by any  means. So  we are really looking at the simple solutions.

Sean: Well, I guess, there are different categories of solutions because I was thinking earlier of the segue inventor Dean Kamazes.- I recalled his name.- Dean Kamazes is treating it more like rocket science where he is trying to go for the fancy solution, the technological solution, which is great. Certainly we like to see this addressed at all levels
And I think, certainly those collective efforts are what’s needed to create a global solution.

Sabrina: Absolutely! I mean, creativity and innovation is very critical in any effort where your dealing with a world wide situation. I think my point is just that it’s not only rocket science it is at our fingertips and we can help people today, right now, without going into heavy duty research.

In our book we actually highlight some of the water heroes and include the innovation and technology that is going on not only in ways of transporting water and filtering water, but capturing water. So we are very excited about all of those possibilities, too.

I think that on an individual level people sometimes want to see an immediate reaction. And so, I think that what gives us the most hope is that for $30 you can provide a lifetime of safe drinking water for people. And so $30 is very accessible for somebody.

Sean: Yeah, certainly.

Well, I want to hear more about that and I want to hear about the book.

We are going to take a quick break and then we will be back.

We are talking on the topic of solving the world’s safe drinking water crisis with Sabrina Walasek of the Blue Planet Run foundation. You can find them online at blueplanetrun.org.

This is Sean Daily on “Green Talk Radio”.

[Sponsor break]

Sean: Hey everyone, we are back on “Green Talk Radio”. This is Sean Daily. We are talking on the world’s safe drinking water crisis and we are talking with Sabrina Walasek of the Blue Planet Run foundation. They are an organization whose focus is to help solve this problem. They are intending to provide safe drinking water to 200 million people by 2027.

Sabrina, before the break we were talking about the basics of the organization, some of your past events, and also,  your focus. I just wanted to clarify. So is your focus really international?

Sabrina: Well, it is mostly primarily international, but we actually now accepting and looking for opportunities in the US. I think, we realize that there are many issues here domestically with water scarcity and quality issues. So we really want to support efforts domestically, as well.

For instance, I live in California and I recall hearing a couple of months back about how the Central Valley of California has whole communities that can’t even cook with their water. They can not access any safe tap water. And that really means that they are all relegated to purchasing water.

You don’t think that that actually happens in the United States, but it does.

I also think that people are realizing there are really easy ways to use gray water, to access rain water for gardens, and that type of thing, so.

Sean: I am fascinated by that. That is interesting. I did not know that there were communities like that in the United States. I am just curious on that. I don’t know how much you know about the specifics on that, but I am wondering, I mean, it seems like there is almost some implied obligation for the community, the municipality, to provide at least a level of water that isn’t harmful to the population. What is the legislation around that? Or is there any? What is the logistical obligations of the community, of the municipality, to  provide that to its citizens?

Sabrina: Yeah. I am sure that they are doing as much as they can. That is definitely not my area of expertise, but I know that with the Central Valley that is a huge agricultural area. So there are two implications. One that the locals who are providing, basically, the bread basket of the Untied States are themselves facing health hazard. And I think that there is probably a lot of effort going on to try to clean up the situation. I believe it’s around nitrates or something in the soil that is contaminating the water tables.

Sean: I see.

Sabrina: As I said, I’m not completely informed on the whole issue. But that is one of the issues that we are facing as a whole in the United States is that we have some infrastructure that’s been around for awhile. We are hitting that tipping point where we are at an age where things are starting to break down under ground.

And when it comes to taxes and things like that, do people want to invest in whole new systems? It’s a big effort. So do we deal with it now? Or do we find new solutions to our systems? There’s a lot of questions out there for us to handle domestically. And of course, the food and water relationship is a big one as well.

Sean: It’s a real wakeup call. I think most people don’t realize that these problems can happen in the United States. I think that…even myself; I was surprised to hear that. And I think that most of us really think that this is happening else where and not here on our soil. So it’s good to know. And I think that will probably at least as impressive to a lot of other people as it was to me when you said that.

Let’s just switch gears for a minute. I wanted to talk about the finding4 on the water projects that you’ve got. Can you tell us a little bit about your model there?

Sabrina: Yeah, absolutely. I think this is where our foundation is most unique. We’ve developed an innovative model called ‘the pure water exchange’. This is an online model that enables water groups, your non governmental organizations and collectives around the world, to collaborate and work efficiently. A lot of non profits are scrambling to get money for their cause and the great thing about this model is that we are actually providing transparency where there is …

[Sponsor break]

Sabrina: …competition.

The way it works is we pull in the funds from various places we have already mentioned and we have funding cycles. Once the funding cycle comes any of our members who want to submit a proposal are able to do so. And rather than it be an administrator in an office who reads the proposals and makes the decisions, we’ve put it in the hands of the experts who are in the fields, who know what works and what doesn’t,  and who understand the community.

So these members, actually, read each others reports. This allows them to ask questions directly to one another. They can report back on status of what is going on with the projects. So it really allows them to learn the lessons that are needed to make these projects successful. It also insures that more of the money goes directly to the projects.

I think, also, another really interesting  point is that right now, I think we have about 24 members. We just went through and signed up some new members. And we have members that are extremely large, way larger than we are. And then, we have some members that are small collectives for a particular region. And what’s really great about this is that they are all on the same playing field. They are able to talk to one another, learn from one another, and they are assured that they will get the funding that they need.

Sean. That’s great.

I’m curious about…I wanted to talk about, you mentioned the book earlier. I know that you have this coffee table book that’s done pretty well and has garnered some awards. Can you tell us about the book?

Sabrina: Oh yeah, definitely! 

It’s stunning. It’s a photo essay. It was done by two renowned photographers, Rick Smolen and Jennifer Erwitt. And if you are familiar, Rick Smolen is most known for his “Day in the Life of” series.  And it’s really two books in one. Mainly it talks about the global water story and it provides some of the really harsh realities, that we are facing in many many areas around the world, with these really striking phots.

But, as I mentioned earlier, it also highlights and features some of the water heroes, the real people on the ground who are doing things to make their communtiy better and to make the world better. And there is also a section around technology, innovation, some of the really wonderful marketing campaigns projects that have gone on around tap water project and charity water and various other efforts.

And then as a second part of the book, the back part of the book really documents our relay around the world. You get to see all of these runners and hear their story, see where they ran, and get more information around the impact that that had.

What I find interesting about “The Day in the Life of “ series  and this book is Rick’s ability to really galvanize a group of really key talented photographers and photo journalists. So with this book for one month 40 journalist crossed the globe taking these pictures and at the same time there was a team of researchers who would contact various photographers on every continent to identify some of the existing bodies so that we could share information.

And it was about a month ago, we just out of the blue received a call that said the independent publisher book award has been given to you as the outstanding book of the year, the book most likely to save the planet. So that was amazing.

Sean: That’s great.

Sabrina: I mean, we really got excited about that because so much work and so much effort went into this beautiful beautiful book. In fact, the thing that I really love about the book is that it’s not written in a textbook format. It’s very easy to understand. It’s a motive. And a lot of statistics are presented in a very clear digestible format.

So we are finding now that educators and professors are contacting us and they want to use it as part of their curriculum. We offer free PDF that you can download. So it is great for peope who want to project it up onto a wall and discuss certain aspects of the book. Because, as well as selling the book, our goal is to share the information.

Sean: Right. And I am curious, do you have a link you want to provide for people that are interested in that PDF you mentioned.

Sabrina: Sure. You can get it from our website.  It will be in the media section. So I can definitely post that for you.

Sean: OK. So the blueplanetrun.org website?

Sabrina: Right.

Sean: OK. I’m just curious, do you have any statistics on how the successes that you guys have had so far with the past events and fun raising? Do you have anything you can share with our audience in terms of the things you’ve accomplished in addition to future goals that you have set?

Sabrina: Well, let’s see. The event itself, the 2007 Relay Around the World was considered a huge success in terms of media. We received something like 600 million impressions. So I think that for such a small organization that had just started that was pretty amazing. The funding, I am not totally clear on the dollar amounts that came directly from the event because we had money coming from different sources.

And  I think that 200 million people being saved by 2027 is a very lofty goal and we are working as hard as we can to achieve that goal.

Sean: It is. Do you feel like you’re on track, as of right now, towards that goal?

Sabrina: It’s hard to say. I would say that we probably could use more support, for sure.

Sean: And we want to help make that call out to our audience. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to have you on the program today is to really reach out to our audience and encourage them to go online and sponsor an event or purchase the book. These are the kinds of things that you can do, among other things, to help this cause. So we want to encourage our audience to at least take a  look at the website and check out what Blue Planet Run is doing.

Sabrina: Great. Yeah. And our book is also sold in Barnes and Noble. I have also seen it in many boutique stores as well, just your local bookstore, so you can always ask and if they don’t have it, maybe, they will get it.

Sean: OK. Then what about the online sellers like Amazon.com, is it being sold there?

Sabrina: Yes, it is on Amazon.com, as well.

Sean: And you mentioned, on your website, as well.

Sabrina: Yes.

Sean: Great.

Sabrina do you have any other final words today for our audience?

Sabrina: Yes. Well, I just want to remind everybody, as we mentioned before, that $30 provides a lifetime of safe drinking water to one person. So just think about what you spend $30 on in a given day and know that you can make a huge difference right now.

And if you can’t provide any money, than that is OK too. We are just looking for ways to share information and spread information. We have got some really great videos on YouTube, which are also on our website. So we are just looking for people to get involved.

Again, our website is blupplanetrun.org. So visit us and learn more.

As a last final phrase, we like to always say, “Water is life. Pass it on.”

Sean: Great. Well, we certainly appreciate having you on the show today.

I just want to remind everyone again that  Blue Planet Run foundation, they have a vision of a world where everyone has access to safe drinking water and healthy human beings have a chance to live up to their potential. Its goal, again, is to provide safe and clean drinking water to 200 million people by 2027.

My guest today has been Sabrina Walasek. She is the program director for Blue Planet Run foundation. You can find them online at blueplanetrun.org.

For those of you that have been interested in today’s podcast I just want to give you a cross reference to some of the other content on the greenlivingideas.com site. We have a water conservation section that covers all topics related to water conservation. And we have a drinking water section that will be posted on the site shortly, hopefully by the time this podcast is live. Also, you will find content in the eco home living section including an interview with Primo Water who is looking to provide eco-friendly bottled drinking water.

This is Sean Daily for “Green Talk Radio”. Thanks again everybody for tuning in.

One last tip is, if you haven’t done so already and you are a Twitter user or into any of the social networking sites, we encourage you to please go to the greenliving.com site, look in the upper right corner, and you’ll see all kinds of icons to follow us on the various networks such as Twitter, Pownce, Plurk, FriendFeed, you name it we’re on all of them, FaceBook. So please take a look at what we are doing on there. We will update you on things that are happening on the site and continue to provide you with great green living information.

Thanks again everybody.

[Sponsor Break]