Clean Drinking Water For All: Interview with DIGDEEP
Solar.com is proud to be headquartered in the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator in the Arts District of downtown of Los Angeles. In this conversation, we’ll be speaking with another Arts District start-up, DIGDEEP, to learn more about their non-profit and how sustainability is driving their work. Today’s guest is George McGraw, Founder and Executive Director of DIGDEEP.
Community Relations Coordinator
Founder & Executive Director
Johanna Poole: What inspired you to create DIGDEEP?
George McGraw: When we started DIGDEEP in 2011, more than a billion people didn’t have access to clean drinking water. Even worse, 70% of the projects designed to fix that problem failed within the first year… mostly because they were designed by people living and working in countries far away.
DIGDEEP is made up of human rights advocates. We believe in the power of people to advocate for themselves. So we asked the question, ”how much more successful would water projects be if local communities took the lead in everything, from design to financing to maintenance?”
Community-led development was such a powerful idea that DIGDEEP grew from a single well in South Sudan to utility projects serving thousands in East and West Africa.
In 2013 we became the only global water organization working in the U.S, where so many people still don’t have clean, running water. As other organizations empower communities abroad, we’re turning all of our attention back home.
JP: What trends are you seeing in clean water access and which are you most excited about?
GM: I’m a total water geek, and these days I’m obsessed with the water-energy nexus. It takes energy to clean water, and it takes clean water to produce conventional energy. If we can find creative ways to make that relationship more efficient, incredible things can happen.
My favorite example? Researchers in Israel are introducing pollution-eating microorganisms to dirty water. The little bugs give off a weak electrical charge, so while they’re cleaning the water by eating waste, they’re also producing electricity that can be harnessed to purify the water the rest of the way. It’s like a big, self-powering, water-cleaning battery!
JP: What are the biggest challenges you currently face in the advocacy arena?
GM: There are close to 2 million people in the U.S. without clean, running water or basic plumbing. They’re scattered across all 50 states, mostly in rural areas. We’re one of the only developed countries with this problem, and most Americans have no idea it even exists.
So we’re facing two challenges at once: First, how do we tell the average American about this problem and empower them to do something? And second, how do we provide clean water at scale across such a vast area? Since we’re the only global water non-profit operating in the U.S. right now, we’re writing the playbook ourselves.
JP: How do you incorporate solar into your projects?
GM: Ah here’s the water-energy nexus again! *geeking out*
It’s too costly to reach Americans living in really remote areas with traditional water lines. Still, in order to have a normal, healthy life those families need hot and cold running water. So we deliver water by truck to underground holding tanks and use electricity *nexus, nexus, nexus* to pump the water indoors.
Many places without water lines don’t have an electrical grid either, so solar is the perfect way to power our home water systems.
Added bonus: unlike conventional forms of energy like coal and natural gas – which are water-intensive – solar uses virtually no water to create electricity. It’s more sustainable.
JP: What do you hope to see as the global future of water access?
GM: Since 2000 we’ve cut the global population without clean water in half. That proves that when we leverage the right resources and put communities in charge, things happen fast.
At DIGDEEP, we’re now completely focused on the U.S. I think we could bring clean, running water to every American in our lifetime. Why not? We have some of the best resources in the world. We just need to work smart and work together.
I dream of a future where everyone has water, and where we all respect and conserve our water too, so that it lasts.
JP: Tell Us About Your #4Liters Challenge.
GM: Most Americans take water completely for granted. In fact, we consume more water per-person, per-day than any other country on earth – about 100 gallons. At the same time, millions of Americans survive on just a gallon a day. How can we partner with these communities if we can’t understand their struggle – if we take our water for granted?
The #4Liters Challenge started as a social media experiment in 2013. We challenged our twitter followers to spend a day using just four liters of water (about a gallon). According to the World Health Organization, four liters is the minimum amount of water a person needs to drink, cook, clean and bathe for one day.
More than 5000 people from six countries have taken the #4Liters Challenge so far. They’ve shared thousands of moments from their challenges on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. Celebrities and YouTube Creators participate too!
We re-launch the #4Liters challenge in schools, companies and online every October.
JP: Thank you so much for sharing your important work with us. We are excited to be a part of DIGDEEP’s Navajo Water Project!
GM: This partnership means the world to us. We’re just scrappy young start-ups with big ideas changing the world one American family at a time.