With the unfolding horror of Flint’s water crisis, filling a glass of tap water suddenly feels risky.
Throughout history, water quality has been a challenge – cholera, dysentery, and other diseases have felled great cities. Today, more than a billion people remain without safe water access around the world.
And yet, internationally, water is now recognized as a human right, and how to manage it equitably and sustainably is highlighted in climate change agreements as well as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Climate change and energy conservation imperatives are driving changes. As cities learn to protect source water, capture rainwater, recycle grey water, involve the public and establish watershed committees, creativity in urban water management is taking off.
In the end, though, water consumers want results – clean water gushing from their faucet. They wonder: Is my city a leader or a hazard to my health?
Flint can be looked at two ways. It may be an exception, a story of a callous governor making cost-saving decisions at the expense of Flint’s mostly black and brown children. Or it could signal the beginning of a systemic breakdown within the more than 50,000 water utilities in the United States.
So far, despite decaying infrastructure and budget pressures, water utilities have delivered on their promise of healthy water. Many cities have taken positive steps to avoid what has happened in Flint.
Flint is preceded by plenty of disasters, most the result of bad management decisions, that have eroded public confidence and prompted utility action. In 2014, algae blooms, fed by heavy nitrate use, ruined the water supply in Toledo, Ohio. A dramatic chemical spill in Charleston, West Virginia, left that city’s water undrinkable. These calamities are free advertising for the United States’ $13 billion bottled water market.
But before giving up on public water, there’s evidence to consider. As tragic as the news is out of Flint, said American Water Works Association Communications Director Greg Kail, almost all of the nation’s water utilities are in compliance with the Safe Water Drinking Act’s Lead and Copper Rule. The utilities would have to acknowledge any violations in annual Consumer Confidence Reports. “In the vast majority of cases,” said Kail, “water professionals discharge their duties with seriousness and protect public health. When something like Flint occurs, it strengthens their commitment.”
On the heels of Flint, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) and New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) circulated reassuring letters to legislators and customers describing their water quality measures. The DEP proactively distributes 1,000 test kits per year to customers to collect household-level data on lead and other contaminants. The MWRA and DEP both rely on feedback from customers, what Stephen Estes-Smargiassi, the MWRA’s director of Planning and Sustainability, described as “building confidence at the retail level. We want customers to have a good feeling about their water after they interact with us.” The MWRA, like many water utilities, tracks and publishes water quality data on its website, and has a water quality hot-line with a public health professional to respond to inquiries. In Flint, the switch to a new water source was not disclosed, and customer complaints were routinely ignored.
In-house and regulatory safeguards shouldn’t stop alert water citizens from making a nuisance of themselves at City Hall, but in the vast majority of cases, public urban water meets EPA standards. While the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gives the nation’s drinking-water infrastructure a “D” grade – raising red flags about the $3.2 trillion the United States needs by 2020 to upgrade water infrastructure nationwide – the report also says that “outbreaks of disease attributable to drinking water are rare.” While that is not a ringing endorsement, healthy water advocates can point their public officials to smart cities that manage their water well, investing in transparent governance, “grey infrastructure” – piping and treatment – and “green infrastructure” – rehabilitating ecosystems to ensure water quality and quantity.
New York City’s water system is emblematic of this trend, frequently featured at water-management conferences around the world. Its innovative planning began in the 1800s with gravity-fed pipes carrying pristine water to the city from the Catskill and Delaware watersheds. In the 1980s, facing contamination from industrial agriculture and encroaching suburbanization, rather than build a $6 billion treatment plant, the water utility pioneered urban-rural collaboration in what came to be known as “payments for environmental services.” In return for healthy drinking water, the city transferred cash to rural areas to improve animal-waste management on farms and sanitation in towns.
Although New York City likes to claim title to the “champagne” of drinking water, in 2014 it was edged out by Boston in the American Water Works Annual Tap Water Taste Test. Similar to New York City, Boston keeps water clean at its source. Whereas New York primarily forges land-use agreements with private landowners, Boston concentrates on protecting public lands in collaboration with state agencies. Conserving the forest around the Quabbin and Wachusetts reservoirs means that, to achieve Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards, Boston water requires only minimal treatment.
The city’s good tasting water isn’t just an aesthetic bonus: It means that when water smells bad or is discolored, customers call the utility to complain.
Upstream and downstream, watersheds are home to competing economic interests, many of which can compromise water quality. Governments have used both carrots and sticks to ensure responsible water and land use that yield clean water. After stirring a hornet’s nest of angry farmers with strict regulation enforcement, New York’s water utility switched tactics and offered direct aid to farmers who voluntarily engaged in watershed-friendly farming.
A similar challenge emerged in the Midwest. Iowa’s $30 billion grain trade is fattened by a multimillion-dollar infusion of chemical fertilizers, only a portion of which actually ends up feeding corn and soy plants. Much of the rest of it is washed into the Raccoon River, a principal Des Moines water source. Bill Stowe, the chief executive of Des Moines Water Works, said that the state failed in its efforts to get farmers to willingly reduce nitrate runoff. “It’s very clear to me,” Stowe said in a New York Times article, “that traditional, industrial agriculture has no real interest in taking the steps that are necessary to radically change their operations in a way that will protect our drinking water.” Treating the nitrate-filled water to potable water standards isn’t cheap, so in 2015, the water utility served the farmers the bill via a lawsuit against two upstream counties. While this may sound like the makings of an urban-rural civil war, the lawsuit has set in motion an important public debate in Iowa about who ought to pay for clean water.
Self-taxing may seem unlikely today, but California voters in 2014 approved a $7.5 billion bond to repair and replace aging and vulnerable water infrastructure. Parched lawns, made more visible by Governor Jerry Brown’s vocal leadership on water conservation and climate change, shook voters from complacency; water can’t be taken for granted. The bond meant that water bills will likely spike, but voters put thirst before wallets. Funds will be used to, among other things, shore up water reliability, meet safe drinking-water standards, and clean up groundwater. Some $260 million will go to the State Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund’s Small Community Grant Fund, run by the State Water Resources Control Board. In the Bay Area, a 2002 voter-approved bond has helped the San Francisco Public Utility Commission blend groundwater with Sierra Nevada snow melt and incentivize San Francisco builders to collect and treat water onsite, part of what Paula Kehoe, director of Water Resources at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, describes as “a new water paradigm.”
Such a paradigm may not come without a struggle. When United Water won the contract to manage Atlanta’s water system in 1999, they halved the workforce and increased rates. Brown and orange water dripping from city faucets led to boil-only alerts. Then Mayor Shirley Franklin canceled the contract in 2003 and restored municipal management of the water system. Around the world, citizens are forcing re-examination of private contracts and pressuring city governments to take back control of water services. Faced with rate hikes without service improvements, communities question how returning profits to private shareholders squares with managing water for the public good. The Transnational Institute’s remunicipalization tracker reports that in the past 15 years, 235 cities in 37 countries have brought water systems under public control.
Flint has moved the country like no other water crisis. When one water utility betrays the public trust, Estes-Smargiassi said, “it damages confidence everywhere.” The injuries in Flint will persist well beyond its scarred children. It may be some time before families feel reassured enough to drink from their tap. And yet every day and everywhere, there are examples of committed water workers and forward-thinking city officials demonstrating that, with enough investment and public oversight, water can be managed for the public good.
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Cape Town – Transnet National Ports Authority has announced The V&A Waterfront as the preferred bidder for the long-overdue Cape Town Cruise terminal in South Africa’s oldest working harbour.
The agreement includes operation, maintenance and transfer of ownership back to TNPA after 20 years.
David Green, CEO V&A Waterfront told Traveller24 that the V&A Waterfront’s mandate starts from September 2015 with an initial two year redevelopment project making up the first phase of the R179 million development. The entire redevelopment of the passenger terminal is expected to be completed by December 2017.
“From an economic impact assessment conducted, we know that developments by the V&A Waterfront could contribute a cumulative R223.7 billion to the nominal GDP by 2027. The investment into the re-development of the passenger terminal would contribute to this figure.”
An extension of the V&A Waterfront experience
“Our focus will be primarily on enhancing the experience. The cruise terminal gives us the opportunity to extend a warm welcome to our fair city, and is important in the first impression it will create of Cape Town,” said Green.
According to Green, the intention is for the facility to comfortably handle the full passenger complement of the likes of cruise liners such as the MSC Symphonia or the Opera.
“The terminal building is in close proximity to the Silo District of the V&A Waterfront, which is set to become a major hub with the development of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa. With the development of the terminal building comes better access to and egress from this area,” he said.
READ: New Cape Town luxury cruise terminal finally gets the go ahead
“Our vision is to scale the retail offering up or down in response to demand, in addition to baggage handling services, immigration desks and infrastructure and customs facilities.
But owing to the seasonality of the cruise industry, the project is aiming to “develop and run the terminal building as multi-use to bring activity year round”.
South Africa’s cruise season runs from October to April and while activity has increased in the past 10 years and passenger volumes had doubled globally South Africa accounts for an estimated 0.6 percent of overall passenger activity.
Where some nations wrestle and struggle with ecology versus energy demands in form of coal and oil, Africa has to consider something more fundamental: the need for water to survive! It has been said that water is second only to air in importance for life.
We can survive many days or even weeks without food, but we can only survive a few days without water. According to water.org, about 750 million people, that is about one in nine, lack access to clean water.
More than twice that many, about 2.5 billion people, do not have access to a toilet. This grim picture demonstrates the urgent need of having access to clean water. It has been predicted by water.org that population levels will rise by around 2.7 billion, close to a 40% increase, by 2050.
If this happens, extreme pressure will be placed on our precious and already hard-pressed freshwater resources in our surroundings. A report issued in November 2009 by the UN suggests that by 2030, in some developing countries water demand will exceed supply by 50%.
According to the UN, already more than two and a half billion people in the world live in the most abysmal standards of hygiene and sanitation. Helping them would do more than reduce the death toll; it would serve to protect the environment, alleviate poverty and promote development. That is because water underpins so much of the work we do in these areas.
In fact, the need for innovations in water conservation has never been greater. According to the World Water Council, although the world’s population tripled in the 20th century, the use of renewable water resources grew six-times. The increased industrialisation and the added demand for water will have somber consequences on water supply in future.
There should be increased awareness that freshwater resources need protection and sensitize companies, individuals and communities to seek innovative solutions in water conservation.
Rwanda uses less than 2% of its available fresh water resources; there is scope for increased use of the resource in the economic and social transformation. In planned developments in energy, agriculture, infrastructure, industry and domestic supply, indicate that water demand will increase in the next 5 – 10 years.
The high population growth is expected in the developing regions of the world where already clean water is often incredibly hard to come by. The problems associated with water supply are not just about quantity.
A growing number of contaminants such as heavy metals, distillates and micro pollutant are entering our water resources, supplies , making conservation more challenging. Figures on access to water and sanitation in many developing countries vary depending on the source of information . The fact that many rural water systems are not functioning properly makes it even more difficult to estimate effective access to improved water supply.
Water is very essential to survival. Unlike oil, there are no substitutes. But today, fresh water resources are stretched thin. Population growth will make the problem worse. The global economy grows concurrently with its thirst that needs to be quenched.
Most of the health and development challenges faced by the poorest of the world’s population-diseases like malaria or Tuberculosis , rising food prices, environmental degradation-the common denominator often turns out to be water.
International World water day is almost here with us, March 22nd and this year provides an important opportunity to consolidate and build on the previous World Water Days to highlight water’s role in the sustainable development agenda.
Just like the many nations on earth and Rwanda as always joins the rest of the world in marking the importance of this vital resource, there is utmost need to create awareness of its recycling and as its conservation.
The water resources in Rwanda face growing challenges arising from pressures of rapidly changing demographic patterns, the demands of intensified socio-economic development, degradation from unsustainable and inappropriate land use practices; and the uncertainties created by climate change, among others.
Millennium Development Goals has set a target of cutting by half the number of people without access to safe water by 2015. Water Resources Master Plan derived from the Rwanda National Policy for Water Resources Management that was approved by the Cabinet in February 2012 has one of its objectives to provide an equitable allocation framework for water resources recognizing water as a finite resource.
The challenge we face now is how to effectively conserve, manage, and distribute the water we have. National efforts encourage us to explore the local and global trends defining the world’s water crisis.
As it is often argued, whenever there is less land available, and less water to make that land productive, competition for that land can turn violent.
Strangely enough, as Claudia Ringler, a research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington observes, “On a per capita basis, water availability is not that bad in Africa. In Ethiopia and Somalia, the water is there, but it is not getting to where it needs to be.”
Source: All Africa
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More than nuclear weapons or a global disease pandemic, impairments to water supplies and punishing cycles of flood, drought, and water pollution are now viewed by heads of state, nonprofit leaders, and chief executives as the most serious threat to business and society.
For the first time, water crises took the top spot in the World Economic Forum’s tenth global risk report, an annual survey of nearly 900 leaders in politics, business, and civic life about the world’s most critical issues. Water ranked third a year ago.
The report measured 28 risks on two dimensions: the likelihood of occurring within 10 years, and impact, which is a measure of devastation. Water ranked eighth for likelihood and first for impact. It was one of four risks — along with interstate conflict, the failure to adapt to climate change, and chronic unemployment — that were deemed highly likely and highly devastating.
Water’s ascent reflects a remarkable shift in thinking among the members of the World Economic Forum, the Geneva-based think tank known for its yearly meeting in the Swiss Alps that draws the elite of wealth, business savvy, and political power. Water’s top ranking also reflects the growing recognition among world leaders that diminishing supplies of reliable, clean water, if not well managed, will be a significant impediment to health and wealth for the poor and for the richest economies and largest cities.
Residents of California (GDP $US 2 trillion) and Sao Paulo (population 12 million) felt the first tremors of such disruptions during dreadful droughts in 2014. The 2.5 billion people without toilet facilities that protect them from disease and personal danger feel the stress every day.
“So much of life is affected by what happens with water,” said Bob Sandford, chair of the Canadian Partnership Initiative, which helps governments connect the science of water with public policy. “We didn’t realize until recently how much our economy and society relied on hydrologic stability.”
Water Rises in the Ranks
A decade ago, the global risks report was dominated by financial worries and macroeconomic concerns: the pace of China’s growth, sharp swings in stock and bond prices, and roller-coaster oil markets. Water merited little attention and climate change, pushed aside as a “still emerging” threat, was the only risk out of 120 in the 2006 report that was deemed too distant for a rigorous statistical analysis.
Today, the script is flipped. Respondents to the 2015 survey viewed social and environmental risks as the gravest threats to the planet’s 7 billion people. Experts offered several explanations for the new direction.
Howard Kunreuther, a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania who served as an academic advisor in the development of the report, said that the large number of weather disasters in the last decade has captured the attention of government officials. Floods in Pakistan’s Indus River Basin in 2010, for instance, displaced 20 million people, caused at least $US 43 billion in economic damages, and killed 2,000 people.
“Events that used to be extreme are more likely today,” Kunreuther told Circle of Blue. The risk increases as global temperatures rise, with climate change expected to cut water availability in Southern Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and the American Southwest while also increasing the number of severe rainstorms. Engulfing rains or deep droughts could slash crop yields by 25 percent by mid-century, according to worst-case projections cited by the United Nations climate panel.
A second factor is also responsible for water’s rise in the risk rankings, argued Giulio Boccaletti, global director for water at the Nature Conservancy and a member of the World Economic Forum’s global agenda council on water. An evolution in the balance of world power may explain a greater emphasis on water, he said.
“The types of countries that are more vulnerable to water crises are becoming more important in global politics as the center of gravity moves from the United States and Europe to China and India,” Boccaletti told Circle of Blue.
In China and India, there is a much closer connection between infrastructure development, water resources, and economic growth, he added. Home to more than one-third of the world’s people, the two countries have severe mismatches between water availability and water demands. Both nations rely on unsustainable supplies of groundwater in their prime food-growing regions, suffer from polluted rivers, and have hydropower ambitions that can be wrecked by Mother Nature. As many as 30,000 people were killed and 10 hydropower stations were destroyed in a vicious June 2013 flood in Uttarakhand, an Indian state at the foot of the Himalayas.
A Broader Look at Water
Water rose as a global priority in the 2015 report, and it also acquired a new designation. The report reclassified water from an environmental risk to a societal risk, an acknowledgment that nearly all human activity — from growing wheat and catching fish, to preventing child-killing bacterial diseases and powering industries and communities — has water at its base.
“That’s big,” said Sandford about the reclassification. “I agree with the change. Water is environmental but it transcends that category. People are being devastated by these events of flood and drought. How you manage these impacts becomes an important political question.”
The world is not doing enough, the report asserts. Though the problems of floods, drought, and inadequate water supplies that were projected more than two decades ago have come true, little is being done to address them effectively. Leaders are especially ill-prepared for widespread social instability, the risk perceived to be the most interconnected, according to the report. Those connections were most visible in the Arab Spring uprisings, which began in 2010 with turmoil in the public square over food prices and resulted in the toppling of governments. A 12-year drought in Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin, which crippled the largest rice industry in the southern hemisphere, contributed to shortages of grain and escalating food prices that year.
Not all agree with the assessment that the response is lagging. The report is too pessimistic in its assertion that little progress has been made to address water issues, Boccaletti said, pointing out the report’s discussion of Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin as one example of an effective solution.
The Murray-Darling is Australia’s most important river basin, providing water for two million people and 40 percent of the country’s agriculture. The long drought, which ended late in the 2000s, forced water managers to completely rework the system for allocating water to farmers, cities, and ecosystems. Less water would be available for farmers and more would be set aside to maintain the health of the river. What was needed was a credible idea of how much water would be available in the future.
Out of the crisis came the world’s most advanced system for analyzing the water flows in a river basin. Leaders committed money and made politically difficult decisions to throw out longstanding management practices in favor of decisions based on data and scientific merit.
The global risks report, Boccaletti said, is evidence that leaders elsewhere may be at a similar stage – ready to consider seriously the idea of water.
“What this report says is that leaders now recognize that they need to take care of water,” Boccaletti said. “It’s an opening to engage. We’re not necessarily ready to solve all problems. But politically we’re at a stage to have a conversation about sustainable development, to have a discussion about water and development.”
Source: Circle of Blue
25 June 2015.
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