We are sponsoring an engaging speaker series that will explore timely topics on water resource issues. Topics will include water sustainability, endocrine disrupting compounds and pharmaceuticals in water, climate change impacts on our water resources and nonpoint source pollution and water quality. The series will raise awareness about our critical water issues and offer solutions through public policy and citizen engagement activities.
Two events will be held in Fall 2010. Please check back for more information!
April 27, 2010 Event:
Thank you to all that attended the Hedrick Smith Presentation! If you have not already, please click here to fill out a brief survey of the event with any comments or suggestions for future presentations.
More than three decades after the Clean Water Act was supposed to make America’s waters clean enough for swimming and fishing again, major waterways across the country are still in perilous condition. Runoff from industry, agriculture and massive suburban development is flowing into waters from Chesapeake Bay to the Mississippi River to Puget Sound. Read more. Check out the Frontline documentary.
February 22, 2010 Event:
Forget cloud seeding. Forget building more dams. Forget piping Great Lakes water to the Southwest. Figure out how to save most of the 6 billion or so gallons of drinking water-quality water that Americans flush down their toilets each day. And, most important of all, put a price on water that reflects its importance and will persuade individuals and businesses to buy and sell the right to use water.
That was the message author Robert Glennon delivered to about 250 people who attended his lecture Feb. 22 at the University of Minnesota.
Glennon, whose most recent book is Unquenchable: America’s Water crisis and What to Do About It, delivered a lecture sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University’s College of Biological Sciences.
His talk was the first in what will be a four-part lecture series – the Moos Family Speaker Series – that is part of 2010 – The Year of Water, a yearlong celebration of water organized by the Freshwater Society.
To view a video of Glennon’s presentation, click here. To read an interview with Glennon from the Freshwater newsletter, click here. To view a panel discussion featuring Glennon and three Minnesota water experts, click here. To view a KARE TV interview with Glennon, click here. And to read a Minnesota Daily report on his lecture, click here.
An interview with Robert Glennon:
Robert Glennon, a University of Arizona professor of law and public policy, writes with authority, passion and humor about the way Americans over-use and under-value water.
Unquenchable is a sequel to Glennon’s 2002 book, Water Follies: Groundwater Pumping and the Fate of America’s Fresh Waters. In both books, Glennon offers hundred of facts, figures and anecdotes to make his point that the United States is a country in which the population keeps moving from water-rich regions to water-poor areas, that technological fixes – including desalination – are not going to solve the problem and that a higher price or tax on water could be the mechanism would solve it.
The Freshwater Society interviewed Glennon about his books and his vision of the water crisis that he says the U.S. already faces.
You talk in Unquenchable, about “an urgent water crisis, bordering on catastrophe, when levies break, wells go dry, rivers peter out…sewage overflows, pollution mushrooms…water tables plummet, and croplands fallow…” Are we close to that in this country?
Not only are we close to it, but that very long sentence that you quote describes what has happened in the United States. So, when you have a country that has factories being shut down, power plants not being built because there’s a lack of water, you’ve got a problem, and it’s not a problem confined to the arid West.
The U.S. Geological Survey says water use across the country went down between 1980 and 2005. Does that give you hope?
The overall numbers have gone down, but they obscure localized situations. The example I give is, when Bill Gates walks into a bar, the average patron becomes a millionaire. When you look at the numbers from the recent USGS report, what you really see over the last 20 years is that industries have responded to pressures of the Clean Water Act to reduce their discharges. Companies like Intel, for example, have made significant improvements. That is optimistic and a good thing. But there’s a question as to how much further industry can go.
Meanwhile, there are some very sobering things in the USGS report, including that use by those of us who are citizens has been relatively constant, about 100 gallons per person per day. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that our current population, which is just over 300 million, is going to reach 420 million by the middle of the century. Do the math and you realize that’s another 120 million Americans, each consuming, if things stay as they are, 100 gallons per person per day, and you have a horrible crisis on your hands.
You call corn-based ethanol a “fool’s bargain.” Explain that, please.
The ethanol water problem comes in because it takes four gallons of water to refine one gallon of ethanol, and first you have to grow the corn. Now, if you’re growing corn in an area where there’s not much precipitation, then you’re going to be using irrigation, and wherever you grow the corn, it can take as much as 2,500 gallons of water to grow enough corn to refine one gallon of ethanol.
In your book, you talk about the Great Lakes and the possibility that arid regions of the Southwest might try to transport water from the Lakes. Is that a serious threat?
I don’t consider it a great likelihood or a real threat. I note that it was raised by Gov. Richardson of New Mexico when he was running for the Democratic nomination in 2008, but the reality is this: Water is too cheap and too heavy to warrant trying to move it thousands of miles from the Great Lakes to the Southwest.
You have a chapter titled, “Shall we drink pee?” Do you see the re-use of treated sewage effluent as a significant solution to our water problems?
I do. Now, you don’t need to drink reclaimed water. We can use it for, as we do in Tucson, irrigating tourist facilities, ballparks, cemeteries, highway medians, light industrial applications. It’s not a silver-bullet solution, though. It is expensive, it requires a completely separate system of pipes (we paint them purple in Tucson so there’s no mistaking the potable from the reclaimed system), and that drives up cost. But it is a supply that grows as the community grows, and it certainly should be part of the solution.
The City of Los Angeles has, with its Hyperion treatment plant, a volume of water that is equal to the seventh-largest river in the United States. Every drop of that treated municipal effluent gets dumped into the Pacific Ocean. Surely, Southern California can do something better with its treated effluent than dump it in the ocean.
You suggest a national tax on water. How high should the tax be?
Rather than any specific amount, what we need to be thinking about is a way to rationalize the price signals for water consumption. And a federal tax on water would be a good way to do that.
If you were the U.S. water czar, what decrees would you issue to protect our future?
We need to meter our water use, we need rational price signals, we need water rights that are quantified and transferable. We need to reallocate water from lower-valued to higher-valued uses. That’s happening all around the American West. It’s intensifying and needs to go further
We need to tell anyone who wants to put a new straw into the milkshake glass, which is the way I refer to our water supply, that if you want to put a new straw into the glass you need to persuade someone else to take his or her straw out of the glass.
My approach in arguing for a water market is not to cut off growth, but to make growth pay its own way by demand offsets.
One last question. You write that your mother-in-law takes Navy showers — getting wet, then lathering up with the water turned off, then rinsing. What do you personally do in your lifestyle choices to conserve water?
I try to be pretty careful about water use. But I live in the desert, I do have a swimming pool and I have some plants. The plants are xeriscape plants, that is, they’re native to the area, they’re low-water plants.
Here’s one small step that I’m taking: I try not to use the kitchen food disposal. An environmental organization in Tucson studied the water use in food disposals recently and found that if you use your disposal 2 minutes a day, even if you have an aerator on your kitchen faucet, you will, at the end of the month, have used 150 gallons of water.
That strikes me as a simple step individuals can take. Throw their food scraps in the garbage or the compost pile, but do not use water to flush them down the kitchen sink.