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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.

As part of that transformation, they argue that we need new vocabulary and a new way of talking about water. Why is a source of energy and nutrients called "wastewater" for example? Words matter. Some people who watched last month’s paralympic games were struck with how much the language of disability has changed and with it societies' attitudes. To begin to get a consensus on the new terminology for water, IWA included a survey for conference participants. The link is here. See what you think.

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