Symposium Focuses on North American Issues to be Addressed at the 7th World Water Forum
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
The 7th World Water Forum Symposium: North American Regional Event was held in conjunction with the ASCE-EWRI World Environmental & Water Resources Congress 2014 in Portland, Oregon. The purpose of the symposium was to assist in the development of North American views on key issues of interest for the 7th World Water Forum, to be held in Daegu-Gyeongbuk, Republic of Korea, in April 2015.
Fifteen speakers and panelists from industry, government, and academia addressed pre-selected topics related to water management and sustainability at the day-long symposium.
Following an introduction by World Water Council Governor Dale Jacobson and a welcome by EWRI President Karen
Kabbes, the symposium's keynote address was delivered by Steve Stockton of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
(USACE). He spoke on the role of the USACE in operating and maintaining the nation's water resources infrastructure, and the need for continued investment in order to protect the environmen and gain maximum economic benefits from water resources systems. Five panels then addressed a range of issue including infrastructure for sustainable water resources services, water for food and energy, meeting basic water an sanitation needs, and disaster resiliency.
In the first panel session focusing on infrastructure, Dave Ponganis of the USACE echoed Stockton's call for investment to maintain and rehabilitate aging infrastructure and noted several challenges that were not foreseen when many projects were designed and built, including climate change, impacts of fisheries, invasive species, and increasing water scarcity. Government budgets are insufficient, and planning horizon are currently too short to provide adequately for future needs. Ponganis noted that public-private partnership may be needed in the future to finance infrastructure maintenance and changes. Jessica Watts of CDM Smith spoke on the history of flood protection in New Orleans, noting that the original design principles underlying the infrastructure have changed and are no longer adequate. Floods regularly overwhelm the so-called "control" systems, and there is an opportunity to develop multipurpose areas for flood storage so that people learn to live with water rather than excluding it from public spaces. Lastly, Casey Brown of the University of Massachusetts noted that a lack of water security can impede
development, and more should be done to demonstrate the value of investing in water resources infrastructure to
In the session on water and energy, panelists discussed the benefits of integrated energy planning and a need to better understand life cycle impacts of energy choices. Ashlynn Stillwell of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign started off with an overview of water withdrawal and consumption rates for different energy sources, emphasizing tradeoffs between water use and consumption and other factors, such as reliability. John Shurts of
the Northwest Power & Conservation Council spoke about opportunities to improve energy efficiency and the need
to balance energy production with ecosystem protection and affordability. Max Spiker of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation noted that drought in the West has affected hydropower efficiencies, but there is potential for technological advancements to offset some of these losses. In closing, panelists agreed that policies for integrated water-energy planning are slowly evolving, but the knowledge base for policy development has improve dramatically in recent years.
The third panel addressed issues related to water and food. Roberto Lenton of the University of Nebraska Water for
Food Institute reminded the audience that food production is by far the largest water-consuming sector, and agriculture is also the largest polluter of water. Furthermore, global demand for food is increasing while water availability for food is decreasing. Solutions are inherently context- and locationspecific, but it is critical that farmers be in the dialogue worldwide since they manage two thirds of the world's water. Stephen Smith of Regenisis focused on technology as an important element in irrigation and agricultural production, but noted there are several factors that hinder technological improvement, including affordability, incentives to change, and overall reliability. In closing, Tingju Zhu of the International Food Policy Research Institute provided a look to the future. He noted that the world population is expected to increase by 50% over the period between 2000 and 2050, and nearly all of this growth will take place in developing countries with already strained water resources. Water stress will limit agricultural production and pose a risk to socioeconomic growth in many regions of the world.
Continuing to focus on developing country issues, the next panel focused on water and integrated sanitatio services` for all. Jeanette Brown of Manhattan College gave an update on progress towards Millennium Development Goal targets to reduce by half the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. She noted that 116 countries have met the target for water, and 77 countries have met the target for sanitation. However, there are still 2.5 billion people who lack sanitation access. Brown also pointed out that water and sanitation projects have major impacts on women, by reducing the time and effort women spend to collect water and providing safe and private sanitation facilities for women and girls, allowing them to work at making a living and the girls to attend school. Gil Garcetti, UNESCO-IHE Cultural Ambassador, then told a series of compelling stories through his photography initiatives, conveying how he has witnessed firsthand the difference water can make to a village. Garcetti has traveled around the world, most extensively in Africa, to raise awareness, promote, and
document water supply development in developing communities.
The final panel discussion focused on risk, uncertainty, and disaster resiliency. Laura Reed of Tufts University drew
upon her experience working with Andean mountain communities threatened by reduced water supplie due to glacial retreat. Although these communities lack services and resources, they have formed a collective organization of 27 rural communities and municipalities for the purposes of sharing data, building social resilience, and developing technical solutions to address the impacts of climate change on water and land. Veronica Griffis of Michigan Technological University spoke on the need to develop new methods for climate risk assessment that account for nonstationarity and the need to improve risk communication. Mohammad Karamouz of New York University discussed procedures for assessing the adaptive capacity and vulnerability of a system, promoting an approach based on the "4Rs": Robustness, redundancy, resourcefulness, and rapidity. He stated a need for a continuous cycle in which planners constantly assess and adapt to hazards and risks.
ASCE-EWRI has taken on a major responsibility to consolidate and carry forward a few basic messages to the 7th
World Water Forum that represent the collective desires of the North American region. In this effort, ASCE-EWRI is
collaborating with the American Water Resources Association, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other North
American organizations interested in issues to be addressed at the World Water Forum.
The symposium was organized by Dale Jacobson and Daene McKinney, with assistance from Tim Feather, Debra
Leigh, and David Watkins.