Almost 71 percent of the earth's surface is covered by water – only 2.5 percent of that is fresh, and most of that is locked up in glaciers or deep underground. A mere 0.3 percent of fresh water supports the life dependent upon it – some 126,000 species and more than six billion people.
While this amount is incredibly small, Dr. Tracy Farrell is working to advance a strategy to protect and enhance freshwater security, from headwater to estuary.
As Senior Director of CI's Freshwater Initiative, Tracy has spent the past two years working with a team to prepare a comprehensive freshwater strategy that will enhance global to local freshwater security. According to Tracy, the full strategy, which incorporates management alternatives and government outreach, can more simply be broken down to protecting watersheds from the source, to the flows and finally delivery to people.
When her team embarked on this mission, they initially discovered that some of the key areas where CI has historically worked – biodiversity hotspots and high-biodiversity wilderness areas – hold 60-65 percent of all fresh water coming from natural ecosystems. As a result, eight flagship locations were designated as target areas for this work.
LEARN MORE: Explore CI's freshwater projects.
"We identified places that represent a mixture of freshwater ecosystem types, threats and challenges," Tracy says. "Each one of the places has a portfolio of challenges which also provides us with distinct opportunities to better manage our freshwater ecosystems."
After years of careful research and planning, the strategy was presented and approved by CI's Board of Directors in July 2010. Tracy regards this as a monumental accomplishment.
"It was a culmination of years of hard thinking and work. It was incredibly satisfying and changed the playing field for what we can accomplish in the future."
Freshwater Flows and Fundraising
In many ways, the hard work for Tracy is just beginning. As the lead for the Freshwater Initiative, Tracy refines the cross-institutional strategy and guides implementation of freshwater projects across all CI divisions and departments, in turn pushing out results that will make an impact on the ground.
"We are working on the most pertinent science questions: How does water flow over landscapes? How do people use water and benefit from ecosystems providing it? What about equitable access to water? We can see this playing out across our on-the-ground projects. Many people are involved; I help to drive the work happening on the ground."
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Tracy and her team have laid out ambitious goals – which will take $56 million in funding to achieve. So, in addition to rolling out the new strategy, "This year is all about fundraising and securing resources to achieve CI's goal," she says.
IN DEPTH: In Rural China, Funding for Fresh Water
Finding a Niche, Professionally and Personally
Tracy will draw attention to the Freshwater Initiative at World Water Week, the most important conference in the water and sanitation field, in Stockholm, Sweden, September 5-11. One of CI's sessions at WWW is a keynote presentation about water and climate change. She'll also be building partnerships with the many other organizations represented at WWW that are involved in freshwater efforts.
WEBSITE: World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden
Finding a niche for CI in this crowded field was initially challenging, but Tracy contends that CI brings a unique perspective.
"It really required thinking about how important it is for us to establish a clear niche – but I also realized that it doesn't have to be distinctly ours. CI has always worked through partnerships, and this is no exception. I think the epiphany came when I realized that we bring a unique contribution because we can link biodiversity to watershed management."
In addition to finding a niche for CI's freshwater work, Tracy has found her niche in conservation. She attributes this to growing up in upstate New York close to the Adirondack and Catskill mountains. Growing up so close to the largest state wilderness and "watching the seasons change, the mystery of all that, seeing the flowers and the bees, being attached to such a wonderful outdoor environment" firmly planted a love for nature.
Couple this with Tracy's awareness of other cultures, thanks to her mother's upbringing in Mexico and Honduras, and you have a perfect formula for her career at CI.
From Music to Science: Making a Difference
Although she was originally a music performance major in college – and still plays violin, viola, bass and sings in a rock band – Tracy realized that she wanted to focus on finding ways to help people to survive and thrive. "I saw increased degradation in environments, and instead of thinking the typical gloom and doom thought, I wondered how was there a way to do something to better that situation?" After a study abroad program in Ecuador and witnessing real examples of people making a difference, Tracy became interested in ecotourism.
She switched from music and received a B.S. in Environmental Studies from the State University of New York at Buffalo. She followed up with a Master's in Recreation and Tourism (College of Environmental Science) at State University of New York and a PhD in Natural Resources Management from Virginia Tech.
On top of her educational background, Tracy explains that her motivation to work on fresh water is simple: "It's an easy concept – you need water. While water is not just that simple, it's really satisfying to work on something that everyone recognizes is important."
And, as Tracy is sure to emphasize, the goals CI pursues through the Freshwater Initiative will not be achieved through her efforts alone. In fact, Tracy credits "many dozens and dozens of staff" with the creation of the freshwater strategy. She is quick to praise those who have helped her reach her goals and push an agenda she is so passionate about.
IN DEPTH: Explore CI's freshwater strategy.
"What an incredibly talented, dedicated, wonderfully soulful group of people I'm lucky to work with at CI. My accomplishments are due to these people."