I don't understand the structure- would it not be "l'eau est indispensable (a nous)" or something?
It is indeed what it means, but pronoun "nous" needs to be placed before the verb.
but is that the only possiblity or either are correct?
"nous" before the verb is the correct form and preferable (more fluid).
If the object is not a pronoun, you put it afterwards: "l'eau est indispensable à notre santé"
Great explanation and example - thanks!
Could you put it after if you were stressing that it was specifically us?
Yes, with a change in the preposition: L'eau est indispensable pour nous.
Would someone mind providing another example (or a few) of using 'nous' in this way? As far as I know, using pronouns like this hasn't been shown thus far in Duolingo.
So 'xxx' could be replaced with any noun (and article) and 'nous' could be replaced with any pronoun?
yes, 'xxx' can be any noun and the pronouns (indirect objects) can be:
me/m', te/t', lui (both masc and fem), nous, vous, leur (both masc and fem)
Can you do this with any intransitive verb?
(According to Larousse, être is intransitive)
I answered you on another thread.
"Nous" here is an indirect object. In english it means "to us,' with l'eau being the subject. Il nous parle, for example, has the same structure and means "He speaks to us" in english.
"To us, the water is vital". I get that "water" in general is the better answer, but "l'eau" can't mean "THE water" here?
If you say: "l'eau est froide", it won't be a generality and then you can translate it to "the water is cold", which refers to specific water (already mentioned or implicitly pointed to).
But imagine that you are packing for a hike. Your partner feels that his pack is too heavy and starts to remove the water bottles. In that context, could you not say "L'eau nous est indispensable," referring specifically to the water you packed?
Yes, that is right, this is why "the" is optional in English (generality or specificity) but not in French where both generality and specificity need a definite article.
Really bad audio enunciation.
I have just listened to it: frankly there is nothing wrong.
She doesn't enunciate the "t" at the end of "est". That seems to happen a lot here.
I thought water should be pronounced more like "low" than "lu"
"low" has a diphthong, that l'eau does not have.
The sound is "lô", not "lö" either.
Please check it on forvo.com
Thank you for that. My American ears can't recognize the small differences in pronunciation without these corrections.