“Nearly every human endeavor on the planet was conceived and constructed with a relatively stable climate in mind. But as new climate disasters remind us every day, our world is not stable — and it is changing in ways that expose the deep dysfunction of our relationship with water. Increasingly severe and frequent floods and droughts inevitably spur calls for higher levees, bigger drains, and longer aqueducts. But as we grapple with extreme weather, a hard truth is emerging: our development, including concrete infrastructure designed to control water, is actually exacerbating our problems. Because sooner or later, water always wins.”

So writes acclaimed science journalist Erica Gies in her “quietly radical” book, Water Always Wins: Thriving in an Age of Drought and Deluge (University of Chicago Press), where she introduces us to innovators in what she calls the “Slow Water” movement who start by asking a revolutionary question: What does water want?

Appearing live on campus

Find out more when this National Geographic Explorer and independent journalist appears on campus as the 2023 Southam Lecturer in the Department of Writing, offering the free public talk “Water Always Wins: Working with Nature in an Age of Drought, Fire & Flood”.

While Gies spoke on campus on Oct 3, her talk is now live for viewing here: 

Slow water

As Dept of Writing Lansdowne Professor Deborah Campbell notes in this recent Tyee interview with Erica Gies, she also coined the term “Slow Water” to describe working with water’s natural processes.

“Like ‘Slow Food’, ‘Slow Water’ works with local geology, ecology and culture to figure out how to make space for that place’s natural slow phases of water, respecting its agency and relationships,” explains Gies. “Slow Water means systems thinking rather than single-focus solutions. Projects are distributed across the landscape rather than centralized. Slow Water solutions are also local and environmentally just.” 

Journalism with impact

With Water Always Wins recently published in the US, UK and China, Gies’ reporting on water, climate change, plants and critters continues to appear in Scientific American, Hakai, The New York Times, The Narwhal, The Guardian and other publications.

She has received the Sierra Club’s Rachel Carson Award for Excellence in Environmental Journalism, Friends of the River’s California River Award, the Renewable Natural Resources Foundation’s Excellence in Journalism Award and was a finalist for the Berlin-based Falling Walls Science Breakthrough of the Year Award.

She has given keynote talks at the United Nations 2023 Water Conference, scientific and water industry conferences, and to government agencies, community organizations, NGOs and classrooms. Media appearances include CBC, CNN International and public radio in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, England and the United States.

A legacy of excellence

Gies is only the latest journalist to be named a Southam Lecturer, joining the recent likes of Tyee founder David Beers, climate journalist Andrew Nikiforuk, photojournalist Farah Nosh and many others. Since 2007, we have been bringing some of Canada’s leading print and broadcast journalists to campus to speak, teach and mentor our Writing students.  

The annual Harvey Stevenson Southam Lectureship — named after UVic alumnus Harvey Southam — is made possible by a gift from one of the country’s leading publishing families.