Why Start The Water Project?

Updated: May 3, 2021





My name is Clelia Jane Sheppard and I am creating a documentary about water poverty on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, simply titled “The Water Project”.


I strongly feel in the year 2020 and beyond, especially during a global pandemic, that one household without the infrastructure or financial means to maintain, access and enjoy potable water for hygienic and health related reasons is one household too many.



Universal Progressivism, a concept in the 2030 UN Agenda is the idea of "...leave no person behind..."


My mantra for creating this documentary, transcending the human condition and that of our impact on Earth simply by existing. We must care for each other, the water, the Earth and all living creatures. Nothing is infinite. Act accordingly.


Think outside the box. Oftentimes what we see before us is merely a partial Truth. We accept guidelines and institutions, but sometimes our standards need to be adjusted. Are we doing the bare minimum and okay with just that? What exactly is in our water, even when it's filtered? Could there be a correlation between the prevalence of mental and physical illness, and the substances we are ingesting through water?




“...The problem isn’t that water consumption is price inelastic, it’s that water bills are so low, it doesn’t pay to be sensitive to the price. Water bills may rise by large percentages, but a 30 percent increase in a bill that’s $25 means $7.50 a month. People don’t bother remaking their lives to save 25 cents a day. We’re not behaving with disregard to price, we’re doing just the opposite: instinctively making the judgement that the effort required to change water consumption won’t save us enough to be worth it. Large consumers of water, factories, farmers, are very price insensitive. That, in fact, is the point. If water is almost free, $19 for enough to cover an acre of land one foot deep, as in the Imperial Valley, or if it is literally free, as for Campbell Soup in Napolean, Ohio, there’s no incentive to spend money on expensive, sophisticated systems that use less water but get the same crop or soup production. If the water gets more expensive, then it pays to retrofit your irrigation system, or your soup-cooking system, with equipment that costs money to install, but reduces the amount of water you use. Prices vary wildly for water, in the United States and around the world, because while the water itself is free, the cost of acquiring it and delivering it varies wildly….”


Pg. 277 “The Big Thirst” It’s Water. Of Course, It’s Free.





I’ve always known the issue of water scarcity to be true because of my own lived experience on The Shore. I lost sight of this inherent knowledge during years spent away from home including time served in Americorps as well as completing my education at The College of William and Mary and subsequently pursuing my own business as a self- employed photographer and social media marketer.


As people often do when trying to survive, I became absorbed in my own life and did not do anything about the issue because it felt too insurmountable. Who am I to make a difference?




The pandemic forced me (and the entire world) to slow down and realize there is no moment like the present to pause, reflect and ponder the various realms of possibility to create sustainable change.



Constitutionally, power was designed to rest within the invisible hand of people in addition to elected officials; it takes a concentrated group effort to spur real change. I hope this documentary can support a dream I have to create a more equitable society that does not forget people in need.




The mental, spiritual, social, physical and financial ramifications of not having access to safe and functional water systems are prolific, detrimental and enduring. Water is a metaphor for abundance, and the quality of access to that abundance. The unglamorous truth is people in need are at a severe disadvantage & they often go unnoticed, ignored and met with judgement. The crises of poverty cannot be ameliorated simply with a “pick yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality, especially if health is a prime causal factor.




The reason our government exists, in my humble opinion, is to prevent its people from collective suffering: it starts with respecting the concept of human need. What would you do for your neighbor? How do you teach your neighbor to help themselves?


“....As the consequences of climate change and sea-level rise become more defined in the future, the importance of these demand forecasts, which could at some point include population declines in the population growth, will increase for utilities as they try to match infrastructure investments with the customer base that will utilize and pay for those investments in the future…..utilities everywhere are dealing with aging infrastructure, limited financial resources, an increasingly complex regulatory environment, new technology opportunities, and the additional consideration of climate change consequences that may have an impact on supply sources, infrastructure integrity, treatment requirements, and future demands. In southeastern Florida, all of these factors are in motion on a regional basis….”


P. 162 “Southeastern Florida” by Douglas Yoder




“....When the drought conditions that struck California in the late 1980s persisted into the next decade, the water-supply crisis gained momentum with remarkable speed. In less than three months, between 1990 and 1991, the Los Angeles based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California sped through its drought response stages, moving from stage 1 to stage 5 and imposing a combined 31 percent cutback for municipal and agricultural customers in the San Diego region. The Water Authority took immediate actions in response to the supply allocations, first boosting emergency deliveries through dry-year transfers from the state’s drought water bank and pushing for increased conservation by residents, businesses, and farmers. They created the “Don’t Be a Water Hog” campaign. As necessary as the immediate reduction in water use was, the Water Authority realized more measures would be needed to ensure conservation practices would endure for hte long term. Along with more than 100 water agencies and environmental groups, it helped form the California Urban Water Conservation Council, with the goal of maximizing urban water conservation through technological innovation, effective policies and public education. Another prong of the effort to reduce water use involved offering free home water use evaluations along with financial incentives to boost device based conservation.”


“....Innovative new systems such as the Bluebelt program and Green Infrastructure Plan have been heralded for their multiple cobenefits and as adaptive systems that buffer chronic issues associated with increasing precipitation. These systems, however, are not currently built to fully manage the more frequent extreme events that climate change may bring. New York City’s fourteen wastewater treatment plants and ninety-six pumping stations, located by design at low points and along the waterfront, are particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise and storm surge. In Hurricane Sandy, the surge from the storm led to the release of approximately 560 million gallons of untreated combined sewage, stormwater and seawater from sewers and another approximately 800 million gallons of partially treated and disinfected wastewater into NYC waterways. NYC is in the progress of reinventing its public spaces to include stormwater management, through interagency and public private partnerships to improve public property using green infrastructure refrofits. As climate change will likely continue to bring large rainfall events that exceed the capacity of drainage systems, it will become more critical to optimize land use and funding to achieve multiple objectives…”


P. 183 by Angelic Licata and Alan Cohn in Finding the Balance in New York City



“...The states must go far beyond their collaborations of the past, and they will have to do so together. No single entity or project, such as new large federal reservoirs or desalination projects on the coast, can feasibly offer an easy way out. They have no choice but to find solutions through addressing their own big problems, the Upper Basin’s hydrological leftovers and the Lower Basin’s structural deficit. As their populations continue to grow, the states will need to take past actions of cooperation to the next level of innovation…”


Pg. 84 Jim Lochhead and Pay Mulroy, The Colorado River Story



“....In the reaction to the failure of the Water Decade, there was a decided change in policy. The view that the state should provide a necessary public service to ensure health and survival of the poor slipped away. Instead it became conventional wisdom that water and sanitation services should be a product subject to the rules of the market. In the immediate aftermath of the Decade, however, the more definite conclusions about the need for accelerated private participation were not firmly expressed but implicit in the increasingly commercialized view of water services….”


Pg. 37 Poverty and Water: Water for All


“....The cross contamination of supply pipes with sewer pipes that results directly from not having 24/7 water service is neither unusual nor trivial…”

Pg. 238 “The Big Thirst: Where Water is Worshipped, but Gets No Respect”






“....What is biological water? It’s the amount of water ziplock into the bodies of everytihng alive on the planet, earthworms, squids, pelicans, mosquitoes, pythons, giraffes, sardines, hippos, the swine flu virus, not to mention all the Earth’s trees, ferns, flowers, and grasses. People account for only about 38 billion of the 300 trillion gallons of “biological water…”

Pg. 36 (The Big Thirst: The Secret Life of Water)


“....Irrigation development in Bangladesh, as in other countries of Asia, has been part of a more general “groundwater boom” based on an informal, private and fairly unregulated exploitation of groundwater (Shaha et al., 2003). Although this “boom” has improved the livelihoods of millions of people and has mobilised huge private investments into the water sector, future development may lead to increasing problems of resource depletion and pollution…”

P. 99 Poverty and Water: Rural Poverty in Bangladesh



“....Poverty is still the gravest insult to human dignity, and is still with us despite decades of international efforts to eradicate it. Life at the edge of existence…” This is how the former Chair of the World Commission on Environment and Development, and former Prime Ministor of Norway, Gro Harlem Brundtland, characterised poverty. Today, more than 20 years after the Commission presented their report Our Common Future, the claim is still as valid as then.


Poverty can be defined in absolute and relative terms. Absolute poverty refers to individuals abilities to meet their basic needs. In other words, individuals do not have the resources to meet their basic needs for healthy living and a dignified existence. They do not have the resources to provide for food, shelter, clothing and medical services, among other things. Relative poverty, on the other hand, compares the status of individuals against others in a community or society in terms of an income and wealth standard. The broad definition is also acknowledged and used by many, including the EU, the World Bank, and the UNDP. The UNDP considers poverty as a denial of human rights, good health, adequate nutrition, literacy and employment. It further asserts that “these are not favors or acts of charity to be bestowed by the governments and international agencies, instead they are human rights as valid today as they were when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. As a consequence of the denial of their rights, many of the world’s poor suffer oppressive political measures which hinder their development, and therefore poverty also has a political dimension.


Pg. 2 Poverty and Water: The Inextricable Link



“The link between water and poverty is complex, but at the same time simple to understand. Access to adequate amounts of clean water is essential for maintaining good health, and access to water for agriculture is essential for food production. For poor rural farmers, these links may be unfolding first as a daily struggle to secure enough clean water for their households as well as for watering their crops. Without access to clean water, their children may be sick and their crops may fail. However, as with most poor people, a farmer will most likely have less access to water than the more wealthy in society, and what he/she does hav will be of lower quality than the water they receive. Despite this, the farmer most likely will have to pay more-in the form of labour or money, for the water received (UNDP, 2006; 48-54) Inadequate and unequal access to water is, thus, both a result and a cause of poverty. The close link between water and poverty is made clear in the United Nations Millenium Declaration adopted by the UN General Assembly on 8 September 2000, where it is stated (under point 19; http://www.un.org/milllenium/declaration/ares552e.htm) . The close link between poverty reduction and access to water was weakened when the declaration became operationalized into the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs). Halving the world’s poor population became Goal No. 1, while the issue of securing access to safe drinking water only became a target under Goal No. 7 on “Ensuring environmental sustainability”. Despite this, the goal of halving the number of people without access to clean water is probably of of the most cited and well known of the MDGs. It may also be one of the most difficult to achieve.


Although the links between water and poverty may be easy to grasp, the issue of how to organize our societies and our water resources so that everyone may have access to water needed for consumption and production is still complex and highly contested. The problem of securing water for all is unfortunately too often perceived and presented as a question of physical lack of water available for human use. This is not the case. Physical water shortage is definitely a real phenomenon in some dry regions and countries of the world; however, water scarcity is a much more common phenomenon. Water scarcity is a term linking availability of water with use, implying that regions with ample available water resources may face water scarcity.


P. 3 (Poverty and Water: The Inextricable Link)



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