A “new water paradigm” is necessary to address heat waves, drought, floods, and severe storms that are increasingly wreaking havoc in the US. Michal Kravčík argues that the “old water paradigm” of conventional rainwater management calls for wastefully draining precipitation from rural and urban lands directly to streams, thus disrupting nature’s small, local water cycles. The urgent task now is to retain as much rainwater as possible in cities, agricultural lands, forests and deserts — indeed in all of the world’s landscape ecosystems — so that life-giving moisture can permeate soil, replenish groundwater, and rise into the atmosphere to regulate temperature and rainfall, instead of ultimately draining into the oceans and contributing to sea level rise. Plants influence the climate greatly by regulating the water cycle and the huge solar energy flows linked to it.

Human disregard of the need to return precipitation to ecosystems, Kravčík says, is a major factor in the escalation of climate change. Dry soils and paved surfaces increase local temperatures and reduce precipitation over a larger affected area, as well as preventing natural sequestration of carbon in the soil. Removing vegetation from an ecosystem dries out the soil, and removing water from an ecosystem reduces vegetation. Taken together, these processes are hastening desertification of the planet and intensifying global warming. Even if we reverse greenhouse gas emissions, Kravčík says, this will not stop climate change unless we change how we manage water. Restoring local water cycles, however, will in turn reverse the large portion of climate change that is directly linked to the excess drainage of all continents and the accompanying massive generation of sensible heat.
In the 1990s, Dr. Kravčík recognized that his nation of Slovakia was advancing an ecologically questionable and economically inefficient water policy. With his organization People and Water, and with support of the Slovak River Network and Slovak Union of Conservationists, he developed Water for the Third Millennium, an alternative, integrated water management plan. The program has reformed water management institutions by using the principle of subsidiarity for decentralized economic power and ownership; thus People and Water is part of a larger effort for sustainable village and regional development. In the Upper Torysa region, for example, the organization has implemented projects such as a family farm, a biological wastewater treatment plant, small hydropower installations, and a small fish farm. With the money from his Goldman Environmental Prize (1999), Kravcik endowed the Blue Torysa Foundation in the 25 villages of a region in Eastern Slovakia. With its six basic grant programs, the foundation encourages local action to improve the quality of life of communities and save cultural heritage. The foundation also supports the development of civic democracy and broadens ethnic tolerance.
Michal Kravcik’s work is recognized internationally through grants and fellowships, and has attracted media interest in many countries, including the USA, Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Canada, Australia, Portugal, South Korea, the UK, Sweden, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Kazakhstan, Estonia, France, Japan and Poland. As he points out, industry and agriculture in both the global North and South each benefit, as forests and wetlands are restored, as cities are ringed with green, and as ecologically sound local employment is created.