Museum of Water Plans to Educate New Yorkers

One of the four classic elements is finally on the road to getting its own museum — and it has nothing to do with Action Park or hot tubs. That's right, the Museum of Water is opening up.

Why? The Sahara Desert's growing every year, parts of the Northeast are drowning under rainwater because so much of it's covered in asphalt, sea levels could rise with global warming and the melting of the polar ice caps, and even the bottled water in India has been found to contain dangerous levels of harmful chemicals.

It's enough to make you wonder why someone didn't start up a Museum of Water as soon as Noah found dry land.

"Water supports life in lakes, in mountains — mountains are large reservoirs or water," Asher Shomrone, founder and executive of the New York Museum of Water, said at a New York City event on March 22, World Water Day. "Our civilization is water. Life is water. We are water."

An opening date for the museum is less than, well, solid right now, as another $500,000 to $1 million will be needed to find a space in Manhattan, hire more than a skeleton staff and see to the basic needs of an institution, Shomrone says.

The event, which took place at an art gallery and was attended by everyone from United Nations representatives to marine biologists to a professional surfer to a man in a blue Spandex suit calling himself "Waterman," was meant to highlight the need for a permanent educational site that would showcase the historical importance, cultural ramifications and growing threats to a fundamental resource that Americans seem to take for granted.

"Other countries do have a genuine appreciation for water, while in the U.S. we don't find it so pressing," said Charles G. Sturcken, director of public and intergovernmental affairs for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. "As a lifetime New Yorker, I'm surprised that so many people in New York don't know where their water comes from."

"I was at my dentist's the other day," Sturcken added, "and he asked me, 'We still get it from the Hudson River, right?' We never got it from the Hudson."

As a native of a vast, dry country that faces continual threats of drought, Fiona Guthrie, public-affairs adviser for the Australian mission to the United Nations, claimed a different point of view on the importance of H20.

"By some estimates, by 2025, two-thirds of the world will live in areas of water stress," she said. "Water is crucial to Australia, its economic and natural wealth."

No need to remind Khaled el Bakly, minister plenipotentiary of the Arab Republic of Egypt to the United Nations, who found it perfectly natural to stress the importance of both water and cultural institutions.

"When it comes to museums and water, as Egyptians we are very appreciative," he said. "We look to museums with great respect, and civilizations like China, Iraq and Egypt were built next to water, the big rivers."

"Up to now," explained Bakly, "nobody knew how the pyramids were built. One of the theories that we have in Egypt is that there were canals that were built very close to the Giza area, where the big stones were moved."

"Every year, during the flood period in August, Egyptians would bring one of the prettiest young women to the river, dress her up in jewelry and throw her in the river, just to thank the river," he elaborated. "We still celebrate this, but by throwing in flowers."

The museum would be the first in the world dedicated solely to water and, as planned, would include a permanent evolving exhibit designed by U.N. member states demonstrating each country's people's relationship to water.

So far, Shomrone has funded the preparations for the museum through private donations and money from friends and family. The museum itself is a program of the 1-BluePlanet Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing potable water to 250 million of the world's neediest people by 2015.

"We're right on watershed, as it were, about whether we're going to create a real viable future," said Johnanne Winchester, vice president of international alliances for the communications-coordination committee for the U.N.

"If we could, as human beings, imagine what a culture of peace might be like, we could create a tsunami of peace, where the only issue of security is water security."

And though those in water-rich areas might not think about it, the water problems in, say rural China, the Sargasso Sea or Indian Ocean currents aren't really that far off from affecting what happens in relatively wet places such as Seattle or Baltimore, according to marine biologist Jake Kritzer.

"Water falls from the sky as rain, seeps into the groundwater or drains into lakes and streams, then goes back out to sea," he said. "So it's really connecting what's going on in the sea and what's going on in our backyards."