What is the biggest challenge we face on water in 2016 and beyond?
In preparation for our May 4th Business Forum on Water, OEC Water Program Director Samantha Murray got a chance to sit down and talk to national expert Robert Glennon about our evolving relationship with water in a changing climate.
SM: How do you think our relationship with water will change in the coming decades?
RG: We will have to confront scarcity. At the moment, we Americans are spoiled. When we turn on the taps, out comes a plentiful supply of water for less than we pay for cable television or cell phone service.
SM: What is the biggest challenge we face on water in 2016 and beyond?
RG: We have a proud and virtually unmatched tradition in the United States of providing everyone with water and sewage treatment. What happened in Flint was a betrayal of the public trust by every level of government. Flint is about lead, to be sure, but more broadly, it’s about the failure to maintain our water and wastewater infrastructure. I strongly believe we need to find the resources to continue the proud tradition. If people lose confidence in the public water supply, they will opt out of the system.
SM: What are the top three things we can do to prepare for these challenges?
RG: Data collection: you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Halting the tragedy of the commons: in many parts of the country, groundwater remains virtually unregulated. Pricing water sensibly.
SM: What role should businesses play in this effort?
RG: Food and beverage companies have long understood that water is their most important ingredient. Recently, I think the broader business community has begun to realize that water supply and water treatment affects their bottom lines. The Carbon Disclosure Project recently surveyed Global 500 companies. Two-thirds of them responded that they are suffering water shortages in either their direct operations or their supply chains.