Circle of Blue's Carl Ganter Wants To Change How We Think About Water

Where people are thirsty in a China desert, quench them. Where water is putrid in a Mexico City slum, clean it. Where water is squandered in Australian cotton fields, conserve it. Where invasive species are invading the Great Lakes, lock them out. True, it sounds like a job for a superhero—and Ganter’s enlisted some real-life ones. But most important, Ganter has unwavering faith that great journalism will be the catalyst for that change, albeit new, state-of-the-art journalism that melds massive data storage and management with cutting-edge science, evocative storytelling, powerful graphic design and all the digital tools that media today provides.

“Water,” Ganter says, “will be the greatest story of the 21st century, bigger than climate change, bigger than energy, bigger than security, because all of those issues intersect with water.”

As the hopeful theory goes, when presented with accurate, compelling information in a way that makes the message stick, the world’s people themselves will push for better ways to manage H2O. It’s a notion that calls to mind one of Abraham Lincoln’s insights: “With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed.”

There are two ways you could choose to look at the progress of Circle of Blue, the venture that Ganter and his wife, Eileen, conceived of to pursue the mission back in 2001. On the one hand, you could say after nine years of hard work it’s still mainly a two-person operation (Ganter and Eileen) with a team of “close to full-time” editors, a revolving crew of interns and freelance contractors—all run out of a sparsely furnished office in a former mental asylum. But that assessment is something of a so-last-century view, when number of employees and size of office were key metrics of success.

Gleick noticed two things about Ganter right away: first was his commitment to the issue of water, and second was his enthusiasm for applying all the tools of communication to tackling water problems.

These days, new organizations are emerging built around collaboration, and Circle of Blue is one of them. By those standards, Circle of Blue has succeeded to a remarkable degree. Its first major funding came from the Ford Foundation for an in-depth report on Mexico’s water issues using World Press-winning talent.

It has forged partnerships with global water expert Peter Gleick and world-class journalists, photojournalists and data experts. Ganter has presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, serves on a working group at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, moderates sessions at the Tallberg Forum and the Aspen Institute (internationally renowned policy research organizations) has presented at the World Water Forum and has earned respect as a thought leader in the realm of water policy. The evidence is all on display at Circle of Blue’s website, which is packed with smartly reported, strikingly photographed journalistic pieces, info-graphics, data tools and video from around the globe.

Eileen calls Ganter “The Great Networker,” and to be sure, Ganter’s networking skills have been central to the success of Circle of Blue’s collaborations thus far. “I’ve accompanied Carl to three global events,” says Keith Schneider, Circle of Blue’s senior editor and former environment reporter for The New York Times. “The 2007 Clinton Global Initiative, World Water Week in Stockholm in 2009, and the Copenhagen summit on climate change. And walking through those meetings with Carl is like walking with my wife the school board member in the supermarket in Benzonia. It’s amazing how many people come across the room to say hello to Carl. Government people, scientists, foundation people, experts on water and climate. It is incredible. His Rolodex is gigundus.”

How has Ganter, with no degree in natural resources, civil engineering, public health or public policy arrived as a personage on the global stage of water? Oddly enough, it seems a natural landing place along the journey he began when he wrote those letters in the summer of 1981.

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