Overcoming Constraints

Around the globe, today’s water leaders face very real water constraints. WWD spoke with International Water Assn. President Glen T. Daigger about these challenges and the steps being taken to promote positive changes.

Caitlin Cunningham: What are the most significant water constraint issues that the world is up against today?
Glen T. Daigger: I will mention four: water scarcity, sanitation, resource constraints and governance.

Water scarcity is already present in important locations on every continent and is growing rapidly, driven by population growth, increased per capita consumption and climate change. Projections vary, but within the foreseeable future we may see half of the population of this planet living in water-scarce locations. This is creating conflicts between water users, along with political strife. This challenges water professionals’ ability to meet one of our principal objectives—to provide clean and safe water for every individual on planet Earth.

Sanitation is generally not an issue for the roughly 1 billion people who live in developed countries, but it is for the vast majority of the 6 billion—growing to 8 or 9 billion—living in developing countries. A fundamental issue is that the Millennium Development Goals really only speak to providing toilets, while the real issue is management of the organic matter and nutrients collected in the toilets.

By the phrase resource constraints I mean the fact that, on a global basis, we are consuming the planet’s resources at a rate greater than they are being renewed. Water scarcity is a symptom, along with energy scarcity and rising prices. But we are seeing scarcity of other items. Phosphate is one which has received recent attention by the wastewater profession. What this means for water utilities is that procuring the basic material needed to do our job may become more difficult in the future, but it also provides opportunities, as the waste stream contains resources which can be harvested and used.

By the term governance I mean support for the work of water professionals, both on a global basis but especially locally. In short, the issue is raising the profile of water so that the institutions responsible for delivering this service have the necessary resources to do their job.

Cunningham: How can water and wastewater professionals transform water management policies and practices to address these issues and protect supplies?
Daigger: The key issue is to develop effective governance for the delivery of water services. This entails, at its core, support by the public and at the political level for the job that utilities need to do concerning water and sanitation, and a willingness to fund. It also entails the consistent development of properly structured and managed utilities. Water professionals play a key role in this by communicating with the public the need for effective water and sanitation services and advocating for the institutions needed to accomplish this.

With the proper governance, water professionals have the tools to address the issues of water scarcity and to take advantage of the opportunities created by resource constraints to further develop and implement more water- and resource-efficient solutions.

Cunningham: What role will IWA play in conveying related information and developing solutions?
Daigger: Our Cities of the Future program is targeted directly at the development of higher-performing urban water and resource management systems which use water much more efficiently, recycle it extensively and incorporate a variety of approaches to dramatically increase resource utilization and extraction from the waste stream. Enabled by new technologies such as membranes, biological systems and advanced oxidation technologies, our Smart Water Portfolio cluster of specialty groups is focused specifically on further developing systems and tools to more consistently use the developing array of new water sources.

Our Water, Climate and Energy program focuses squarely on the impacts of climate change on water utilities and is developing proactive approaches. Our development solutions program is focused directly on the issue of global sanitation and working with an array of partners to accelerate both the development but especially the dissemination of effective solutions. Finally, we are working with a variety of international partners.


About the author

Glen T. Daigger, Ph.D., P.E., BCEE, NAE, is senior vice president and chief technology officer for CH2M HILL and president of the International Water Assn. Daigger can be reached at [email protected].