Water is having a moment: water leaders summit week 2

By Dean Amhaus, President & CEO

Water, as one of Water Leaders Summit panelists said this week, is having a moment.

Our discussions this week, much like week one, couldn’t have been timelier. On Tuesday, we talked to Sara Gonzalez-Rothi, senior director for water for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, with a follow-up panel from Emilio Tenuta of Ecolab and Claudia Toussaint of Xylem. As expected, they emphasized over and over how closely water is tied to climate change.

“Most people are going to experience climate change primarily and fundamentally through water, whether too much water or too little water,” Toussaint noted. Although the challenges are grave, the country faces a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to find solutions as Congress comes closer to passing a major infrastructure bill. “To date, when it comes to environmental climate policy, it feels reactive rather than proactive,” Tenuta said. He encouraged Congress to promote progressive water policies such as water efficiency and reuse.

On Wednesday, we saw how climate change can devastate water infrastructure. Scientists tell us climate change will cause more extreme weather events in the coming years like the Texas snowstorm we saw in early 2021. Carol Haddock of Houston Public Works and Steve Clouse of the San Antonio Water System described frantically trying to find things as simple as gloves to keep utility workers warm as they tried to help residents without power or water. In San Antonio, Steve Clouse had to call the fire department and tell them he couldn’t guarantee water pressure for fire hydrants. In Houston, they couldn’t trust their water-pressure sensors because the sensors weren’t rated for such low temperatures. I was heartened to hear the steps the utilities are taking in case of future storms, but I know there is so much more to do to prepare our nation’s infrastructure for a changing climate.

Matt Howard, our vice president of water stewardship, wrapped up the summit discussing “Healthy Buildings, Healthy People” with Rodolfo Perez of the International WELL Building Institute and Patrick Boyle of Sloan Valve Company. It’s a hugely important topic as workers return to the office wanting to feel safe and protected. “Human health cannot be separated from environmental health,” Perez said. They discussed the WELL Building Standard and the Alliance for Water Stewardship Standard, two certifications experiencing growing interest. As the panelists noted the importance of both water innovation and stewardship, I couldn’t help but think The Water Council is sitting in exactly the right place to make a difference in water issues worldwide.

I hope the summit has given attendees lots to think about, but if you take away one message, let it be the question Boyle asked toward the end of the session: What are you doing outside your sandbox to help educate others on the importance of water stewardship? There’s a lot riding on the answer.