Yesterday, I participated in a convening hosted by Columbia University’s Water Center at the Earth Institute to discuss America’s Water Challenges and Opportunities. The event was sponsored by the Pepsico Foundation and chaired by Professor Upmanu Lall of Columbia. As is common with such events, we found it relatively easy to agree upon the technical challenges: aging infrastructure, population growth, climate impacts, overuse of water, unchecked water pollution, and inadequate data. While the discussion of solutions was more diffuse, there was a lot of support for the notion that the technology to address all of these challenges is available. My presentation was focused on the innovation that I have seen firsthand at the local level using green infrastructure, water reuse, energy harvesting from sewage, and other integrated water management technologies. Most other participants also expressed the view that the barriers to progress are not technical, but instead our inability to come together as a society to prioritize addressing these issues and to make the governance changes, policy changes, and societal changes necessary to do so. There was also a heavy emphasis on increasing awareness of the value of water to the U.S., particularly from an economic standpoint, and on the related issue of the need to have water services priced so as to incentivize sustainability. We have a tremendous opportunity to harness the brilliant faculty and students at Columbia and the other centers of learning around water in the U.S. to help provide not only continued advances in technology, but also the social science research and the legal and policy options for us to successfully tackle the challenges ahead. Thanks to Columbia for bringing us together to launch this effort.
Link to America’s Water Initiative: