Pure and simple: The world is undergoing a catastrophic water crisis. While long thought of as a calamity reserved for arid developing countries, the impending water crisis is now staring all of us in the face. The toll in terms of human, plant and animal existence is tragic, the economic impact is daunting, and the threat of global instability is frightening and definitely real.
In general, U.S. water and wastewater utilities are dated and plagued by crumbling infrastructure. Dedicated and sustainable funding has been largely absent, and, as significant changes in water quality and quantity has occurred, there has not been the necessary shifts toward the adoption of new processes and technology that would tackle these mounting challenges to our nations.
Adequate supplies of water, in the present and future, are vital to our health, food and energy production. There is now growing recognition by government, industry and the general populous that water is also essential to all manufacturing as well as to our overall national security and competitiveness. Every product we manufacture and use – from microchips to clothing to automobiles – relies on water!
Underscoring this point, in March 2016, Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, stated in the UN World Water Development Report 2016 “Water and Jobs” that “nearly 80% of the jobs constituting the global workforce are dependent upon having access to an adequate supply of water and water-related services, including sanitation.”
Water will increasingly take center stage as the forces of global economic growth collide with worldwide resource scarcity. The world’s economy will reorganize itself, with the availability of water as the pivot point. Countries that lead in water technology innovation and related manufacturing efforts will need to integrate and leverage the complex blend of expertise and facilities needed to efficiently clean, store, process, distribute, and use water to regain strong positions in the global economy.
Forty years ago, our nations faced escalating oil prices; our factories were threatened with closure and long lines of cars formed at our local gas stations. The economic consequences of lost jobs and decreased productivity were immediately apparent. In response, our government leaders enacted a broad-based effort to encourage conservation and innovation.
Research in the Global Water Center located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Credit: The Water Council).
While not to the scale of the national energy crisis of four decades ago, we are seeing a crisis in water quality and quantity across all regions in the United States, some reaching emergency levels. Last summer, the better half of the western U.S. experienced severe drought. Researchers from the University of California-Davis determined that the impact on California was a loss of 21,000 jobs. While El Niño conditions have brought relieving rain, the consensus is that these are a temporary and insufficient “Band-Aid.” Predictions illustrate that drought conditions will return, but with even more devastating consequences to our nations’ economy.
Besides insufficient quantities of water, the ongoing crisis in Flint, Michigan has become synonymous with the realities of unhealthy water quality. It has been widely reported that the tragedy in Flint is not an isolated case. Many citizens face similar issues when it comes to the quality of water in their homes and places of businesses.