Editor’s note: This story was originally posted in 2017. We’re sharing it again in honor of United Nation’s World Water Day on March 22. The day highlights the importance of freshwater and freshwater resources around the world.
In a third-world country of 1.3 billion people where poverty is high and access to clean water is scarce, influencing conservation efforts can be a daunting task.
And it’s one that Denver Water’s Nicole Babyak experienced first-hand on a recent 10-day Earth Expeditions trip to India, where she studied conservation driven by community engagement.
Babyak works on a team that leads the startup and commissioning of large capital projects within Denver Water’s water quality and treatment section.
The trip was part of Babyak’s efforts to obtain a master’s degree in biology from the University of Miami Ohio. Through a partnership with the Denver Zoo and the university, she studied advanced inquiry, where learned how to ask questions, understand cultures and seek community involvement to implement conservation programs.
“My dream is to help misunderstood animals, like bats, vultures and wolves, get the conservation measures they need to avoid extinction. When you think about it, it’s really all connected. Without water, there is no habitat. Without habitats there are no places for animals to live. And conservation is at the center of it all,” she said.
It’s important to understand the culture, religion and customs of an area before initiating conservation efforts, explained Babyak.
“In a place where basic needs like water, shelter and food aren’t always met, the challenge of convincing the community to not only participate in, but to drive conservation, can seem overwhelming,” she said. “Denver Water uses many community-based approaches in our water conservation programs, which provide additional perspectives as I examine all types of conservation on a global scale.”
Babyak was hopeful when she saw successful programs at some of the 14 temples she visited. One of her favorites was the Keshavraj Temple, a 300-year-old water temple where canals guide water from the top of a mountain down, using soil and plants as natural aerators and filters to purify the water for drinking.
“It was a rudimentary water treatment process, but it gave me hope to see the community coming together to protect this valuable watershed, as well as conserve the fragile habitats around the temple,” Babyak said.
With little to no water or sanitation infrastructure, the people of India rely on community wells or local rivers for water needs, and access to clean water is an issue.
“Between human and animal wastes, agricultural runoff and trash, nearly all bodies of water in India are polluted in some way,” she said.
For someone who works in water treatment, these challenges were eye-opening for Babyak.
“In these fragile environments, conservation is so important, not just for the health of the water and habitats, but also for the animals and people who call these areas home,” she said.
“This trip really opened my eyes to the impact each of our actions has on an entire ecosystem, no matter which continent you’re on. And, I saw the positive result of what can happen if we reach out to understand our communities and work together to use our limited resources to benefit everyone.”