June 8, 2011

“The Future of Water” Virtual Conference

by Barbara Goldberg

Covering global systems and megatrends, the “Future of Water” virtual conference examined how different fields, sectors and stakeholders can meet the challenge of providing a growing global population with clean and sustainable water.  60 leading thinkers each spoke for one minute, conveying their perspectives and thoughts about what is needed to solve the clean water problem.

The following are highlights and thoughts that I found memorable:

“Water comes and moves through nature.  People need to place an importance on maintaining healthy land, and the pipes that go through the land, the “grey infrastructure.”  Tony Long, Director WWF European Policy Office Brussels

“Half of the world’s hospitals are filled with people suffering from water born diseases.  40 million hours a year are spent by women carrying water.  Girls are impacted because they too carry water and don’t go to school.”  Lisa Nash, CEO Blue Planet Network

“Water projects haven’t lasted; many of them are not sustainable.  Out of 10-20 that are put in place, only two last.  These projects don’t take into account the local maintenance problems, they don’t provide money to insure that something gets fixed when it is broken.  They don’t factor in long term use.”  David Abraham, CEO, Clearwater Institute

“Global drinking water is a solvable issue.  Clean water is like medicine, it keeps kids alive.”  John Oldfield, Managing Director, WASH Advocacy Initiative

“Water is not just a physical resource, it has cultural, social, political dimensions and is also a religious symbol.  At Coca Cola, we have learned to respect all these aspects of water which gives us emotional license to operate in many places in the world.” Jeff Seabright, Coca Cola

“Sometimes we are intimidated by the hydro-geologists.  The biggest challenges are the ‘soft’ issues.”  Dan Vermeer, Executive Director, EDGE

“One contributor to spreading cholera is plastic garbage bags in canals, in cholera infested waters. If you create a business model that includes the collection of plastic bags, you reduce the opportunity for cholera to spread.”  Robert Goodwin, Executives without Borders

“Who owns the water rights? Who owns the aquifer beneath us?  The battle continues and the water table shrinks.”  Susan Marks, journalist

“1.3 million die every year from diarrhea.  We need to put an end to open defecation.”  John Borrazzo, Chief Maternal & Child Health Division, Bureau for Global Health, USAID

“Stop climate change.  Put a price on water.  Measure your water footprint.  How much are you consuming?”  Tony Long, WWF European Policy Office

“There are three dimensions of sustainability: social, economic and environmental.  Nature has its limits and those limits must be respected.  We all need to use water as carefully as we can and don’t alter the water table too much.”  Brian Richter, Managing Director, Global Fresh Water Program, Nature

Dennis Nelson of Project: WET Worldwide Water Education talked about what they are doing to educate kids, teachers, parents about water, the most precious resource on our planet.  “With kids, knowledge leads to action.”

“We’ve lost glaciers all over the world, mainly due to soot, methane emissions and brown clouds, depositing black carbon on glaciers.”  Fred Anderson, Partner, McKenna, Long & Aldridge

“Nature has been producing clean water for centuries.  We interfere and overload the natural system.  Water doesn’t respect boundaries.  It affects people huge distances away.”  Tom Kennan, Director & Senior Environmental Scientist, NESA Environmental Consultants, Ireland

“The average pipe in the Western world is 80 years old. In the United States, 600 mains break every day.  We need more advanced technology and that technology needs to be funded to eliminate these problems and the waste that results from it.”  Guy Horowitz, V.P. Marketing, TaKaDu

“We tend to think of different types of water as individual “silos” but we need to think in a much broader way, and come up with a broader research management policy, defining water as one resource.”  Steve Maxwell, author of “The Future of Water”

“There are a variety of approaches needed, like the purification of ocean water via reverse osmosis, which is most effective and highly used.  New technologies can improve water supply more with the use of more energy efficient methods.”  Don Paul, University of Texas

“Corporate utilities understand that it’s a serious problem.  They know that water is going to be more expensive.  Companies need to act now, to invest in water technologies.”  Lara Abrams, Lara Abrams Communications

“Very few projects know how much water they’ve actually got.  There are very poor people using new technology to understand and measure the resources they’ve got and they are pushing their governments to take action.”  Julia Bucknall, Manager, Water Unit, World Bank

“Water is the biggest user of energy.  We need to step back and look at the bigger picture.  We need more decentralization in water management and look at generating energy from used water.”  Hank Habicht II, SAIL Capital Partners

Michael Hickner, Asst. Professor of Materials Science & Engineering at Penn State University talked about the need for using reverse osmosis and nano filtration to process ocean water.  If we do that, he said, we can purify enough water for global use.

“The biggest part of scarcity is due to poor management.  We need to better assess our resources.”  Vadim Sokolov, Deputy Director, Scientific Information Center, Uzbekistan

“Water scarcity is a major problem in Israel.  We are monitoring ground water flow and pollution to prevent water scarcity.”  Gedean Dagan, Tel Aviv University

“We need to make better use of bio charcoal, which is heated agricultural waste, normally thrown away.  If you add it back into the soil, you restore the carbon, which results in a reduced need for water for crops.”  Peter Grey, Partner, McKenna, Long & Aldridge

“There are so many things that we can do as individuals.  Fix leaks, take shorter showers, buy energy efficient appliances and outdoors, use drip irrigation, compost mulch.”  Janet Nazy, Executive Director, Partnership for Water Conservation

“The challenge is how to get water in an affordable manner.  There needs to be a decrease in macro utilities and an increasing reliance on water purification technologies at the local level, where consumers operate and maintain their own safe water service, something they would purchase themselves.”  Sanjay Bhatnagar, CEO, Global Water Health International

“I’ve been working with cholera since 1975, polling with NASA, by collecting data to predict when the next outbreak of the disease will occur and where.  A seri cloth has been developed that filters out 99% of the bacteria.”  Rita Colwell, Johns Hopkins University

“We must create a sustainable global work force of scientists who make water their career.”  Elsa Speranza, President, Chair, Water for People Board

“Water is a sensitive issue.  We need to take a trans-disciplinary approach to water management, with city planners, economists, the community, all co-designing the future for water management.”  Mark Pascoe, CEO, International Water Center

“The coming generation will not take water for granted.”  Dan McCarthy, President & CEO, Black & Veatch Water

“Flooding and drought increases and good water supplies are being depleted in arid and semi-arid regions of the world.  They are not well poised to cope with it.”  Jan Famiglietti, Professor, Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine

“One of our most serious problems can be solved together.  It will take great political wll and a high level of funding.  It will involve individuals, civic groups, schools—there will be a role for everyone.”  David Douglas, President, Water Associates

“Do you have access?  Can you clean up the water supply?  Health and hygiene are the main issues and they require cultural change.  We need to teach people to use latrines, wash their hands and techniques for healthy food handling.”  Ajay Badhwar, Board Member, Pure Water for the World

“These are the solutions to invest in: use the best available science, develop a better integrated resource management system and better valuing of a fresh water system.”  Tracy Farrell, Senior Director, Fresh Water Initiative Conservation International

“There is danger that women face walking to get water; they can be assaulted, raped. People resent others trespassing on their land.  There is a tremendous upside to gaining access to clean water.”  Peter Bell, Senior Research Fellow, Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations,  Harvard University

We need to focus on the people on the ground over the hardware.  Sometimes local innovation is better, people on the ground may know more.  Susan Davis, Chief Partnership Officer, Water for People

“We all hear that there is a global water crisis.  There is no global water crisis.  It is local, regional, a crisis impacting people in certain areas of the world.” Charles Fishman, author of “The Big Thrust”

“Water is an indispensable resource.  There are 7 billion people on earth.  We need to treasure it and protect it.”  William Reilly, Chairman of the Board, Global Water Challenge

And finally…

We need to step back and figure out how to collaborate—the chemical engineers, social scientists, politicians and public policymakers.  We need to think ahead to 2050 to leave the water world a better place.  Neil Hawkins, VP, Dow Chemical Company


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