World Water Day is coming up on March 22. The international day of observance is meant to bring light to water issues, which is nice in theory, but given the growing threat of droughts, floods, crumbling and toxic infrastructure, and rising sea levels, is water really receiving the attention it justifiably deserves?
The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development created World Water Day in 1992 in an effort to set aside one day each year during which we recognize water quality and quantity issues.
The day reminds us to celebrate the small victories—that modern infrastructure enables girls around the globe to attend school rather than spending their days collecting water from the river; that water enables us to have abundant food and thriving industry; and that more people than ever before, even in the most faraway places, have access to the gift of safe, clean drinking water.
But it is also a day to recognize our profound water challenges and to acknowledge that the road ahead is still long and arduous. From the emergency drought conditions in California to the flooding in the Southeast to poisonous water in Flint, we’ve certainly seen firsthand how water tribulations can negatively impact lives and livelihoods.
A USA Today Network investigation just identified “almost 2,000 water systems spanning all 50 states where testing has shown excessive levels of lead contamination over the past four years. The water systems, which reported lead levels exceeding Environmental Protection Agency standards, collectively supply water to 6 million people.” And the terrifying reality is that these statistics are just the tip of the (quickly melting) iceberg.
Out of the litany of water challenges that we’re facing, many experts agree that rising sea levels, which could force up to 13 million Americans from their homes by the end of the century, is the most disconcerting. Florida is ground zero in the battle against rising tides—nearly 6.5 million people are expected to be deluged as warmer sea and air temperatures make their costal lives impossible.
While there certainly seems to be a mind-boggling and quickly growing list of water challenges, the recently released Global Opportunity Report 2016 issued by DNV GL, the UN Global Compact, and Monday Morning offers some silver lining. The report focuses on the development and implementation of “Smart Water Regulations”, which would develop a framework for appropriate pricing for the use of water, with the goal of incentivizing efficient use of the resource. For as much as people panic at the thought of enhanced regulation, smart water regulation is arguably better than the status quo, which involves essentially no oversight of our current, and very wasteful, water use practices.
No doubt, smart water regulations could facilitate water conservation in the US and across the globe. According to Klaus Reichardt, CEO of Waterless Co., “The reality is, here in U.S. water has been essentially considered a “right” for more than a century. You build a house or an office building, someone connects some pipes, and voilà, you have all the potable water you need at a very low price. There is little thought given to things such as where that water is coming from; how much is available; how it is treated; where it is stored; how it is delivered; and most especially, how much it really costs to treat, store, deliver, and then remove it from the house or office building.”
With smart water regulation, we can not only utilize advanced technology to monitor our water quality and quantity, we can also can create a system in which water utilities have the ability to fine “water abusers” and adopt scaled pricing to appropriately reflect water usage (the first units of water are relatively inexpensive, but costs increase as consumption increases). This model would enable us to raise funds that could be allocated towards the repair of our crumbling and toxic water infrastructure (translation: job creation!), and it would encourage sustainable, responsible, and effective management of our precious water resource.
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