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September 2012

At a Loss for Words

Julia Bucknall's picture

The overwhelming theme of the IWA conference in Busan Korea this week is to enable societies to get more value from their water systems. Highly technical events that focus on the latest science aimed at the most sophisticated systems discuss ways to generate electricity from the flow of water in the pipes, how to extract energy from the sewage and how to safely re-use and cheaply desalinate water. Sessions on basic access with a focus on Africa are stressing integrating water into urban design to build cheaper, more robust water systems. IWA uses the term "the water machine" and advocates a new way of thinking about water, where "single use" water is a thing of the past, and the pipes produce energy, nutrients, and water that is "fit for purpose." In this vision we will no longer use drinking water as a vehicle to move feces from one place to another.

Financial Sustainability and Public-Private Partnerships, or Back to Basics

Julia Bucknall's picture

At a session at the IWA conference in Busan, Korea, panelists debated the current thinking about public and private roles in supply chain management.  All agreed that any sense of dichotomy was, as dichotomies often are, completely false.  All utilities operate on a continuum.  Even wholly public utilities subcontract some aspects of their work, whether it's the coding of their billing system or their catering services.  And even so-called wholly private models rely on public agencies for some functions. 

Embracing the Certainty of Uncertainty

Abhas Jha's picture

Many extremely smart people have famously made predictions that turned out to be really wrong. Consider this: "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." -- Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943. Or this: "Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau." -- Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929.

Challenges of a Hidden Potential

Luis Ernesto Garcia's picture

One third of the planet's freshwater is under the surface. While there is a 100 times more water in the ground than in rivers and lakes, all of it is not easily accessible. Although groundwater is considered a renewable resource, it may be hours old, hundreds of years old or even thousands of years old, depending on its depth and point of entry. At the same time, there are regions of the world such as Africa where the potential of large volumes of water naturally stored underground is not being used sustainably to reduce poverty, provide food security and contribute to climate change adaptation. But sustainable use of groundwater and the management of aquifer systems imply overcoming many hurdles, not only technical, but economic, social, and cultural.

The Silent “Water Menace”

Luis Ernesto Garcia's picture

Some consider that the most-hotly contested resource for development and survival in a future world will not be oil, but water. Supply problems are very easy to envisage on the surface of the Earth. But countries such as Australia look “down under,” to groundwater. They should know. From 46 to 67% of the water they use in agriculture is groundwater. One of the largest aquifer systems of the world -- the Great Artesian Basin -- is in Australia. But UNESCO lists it among the areas of significant groundwater decline, along with the California Central Valley and the High Plains area in the USA, western Mexico, several basins in Spain, the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, the Indus basin in India, and the North China Plain. People use groundwater but most of the time they don’t know how much they have or how long will it take to recharge. Consequently many aquifers around the world are being depleted causing problems that may remain dormant for some time but that eventually will cause negative impacts on society and the environment.