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Gilberto Cardenas/New University

The Colorado River Delta, which once supported flourishing ecosystems throughout nearly 2 million acres, is degrading at a frightening speed into a barren mudflat. By 2057, its iconic river may face the same fate, according to a study published by the American Geophysical Union.

Colossal in magnitude and monumental in importance, the water crisis is ravaging habitats and endangering species across the planet. With water reservoirs drying up and fishing nets returning empty, researchers predict a bleak future if water-use practices are left unchanged.  The tides might be turning, however, with the efforts of the recipient of the 2011 Human Security Award: Alexandra Cousteau.

Every year, UCI’s Center for Unconventional Security Affairs (CUSA) holds an award ceremony to honor an activist or organization whose social entrepreneurship has ushered in remarkable change for the underprivileged. CUSA, which is dedicated to investigating the causes of modern unconventional security issues, hopes to provide assistance to vulnerable communities in the face of global change by encouraging innovative leadership.

On Thursday, May 4, CUSA presented the Human Security Award to Alexandra Cousteau at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center of the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering. The ceremony included speeches by School of Social Ecology Dean Valerie Jenness, Chancellor Michael Drake, CUSA Director Richard Matthew and a keynote address by Alexandra Cousteau herself.

Granddaughter of the celebrated undersea explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau and daughter of environmental filmmaker Philippe Cousteau, Alexandra Cousteau accompanied her father on her first expedition when she was only four months old, developing a passion for conservation from an early age. Cousteau graduated from Georgetown University with a bachelor’s degree in political science and has been advocating for the incorporation of restoration and conservation measures ever since.

In 2008, she founded Blue Legacy, a campaign that promotes discussion of critical water issues and seeks to engage the global public to support sustainable management of water resources. Through a combination of film, social networks and traditional media, Blue Legacy allows audiences to encounter the realities of the water challenges plaguing society today. In addition to its educational work, the initiative invites policy specialists and researchers from around the world to attend an annual summit to brainstorm proposals and innovations to help shape future projects.

Cousteau’s environmental advocacy led her to serve as the Global Water Advisor for the Live Earth 2010 Run for Water, a series of 6K walks accompanied by concerts and water education projects. Teaming up with celebrities such as Pete Wentz and Jessica Biel, Cousteau reached out to communities worldwide to support water conservation through sustainable methods. In addition, she is presently a member of the Board of Directors of EarthEcho, Global Water Challenge, and Mother Nature Network, and has delivered presentations regarding water policy to the U.S. Congress. Recognizing her efforts in promoting environmentalism, the United Nations honored her with the Earth Trustee Award.

One highlight of the evening was a screening of “Death of a River: The Colorado River Delta,” a segment of Cousteau’s current 14,500- mile journey across North America, formally known as Expedition Blue Planet: North America. Traveling through Canada, Mexico and the United States on a biodiesel tour bus, Cousteau and her crew examine crucial water issues. Notable investigation sites include the Colorado River, Tennessee Valley, the Gulf Coast, Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes. While documenting a variety of water issues, including a growing lack of potable water and habitat destruction, the expedition tea, will also visit 20 communities to sponsor “Watershed Action Days.”  The documentary featured interviews with fellow environmentalists, water policy experts and victims of the water crisis.

Alexandra Cousteau’s vision of a future which espouses everyone’s need for a sustainable supply of potable water with resolving environmental concerns has inspired audiences around the globe to take action.

“Not only does she raise awareness, but she really brings home the fact that water is not just an international issue,” said Morgan Bailey, president of UCI’s student chapter of Engineers Without Borders. “It’s not just a problem in Africa, but it’s also a problem at home — it’s a problem in California.”

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