Water Professionals Are Really Involved With a Great Deal More Than Water

They’re all connected. The concept of an expanding water nexus elevates the importance of water and the work of water professionals.

Several years ago, the water-energy nexus became a buzzword. The two were intimately connected, it was said. It takes energy to produce, treat and distribute water. It takes water to produce energy — as in steam to drive power plant turbines and water to cool the power-making machinery.

Now increasingly there’s talk of a larger nexus involving water. Tom Kunetz, Water Environment Federation president, has spoken and written about the people-water nexus.

It starts, he says, “with an understanding of how everyone — not just water sector professionals — is connected to water. People affect water. We degrade water quality, move water from place to place, drain aquifers, and disrupt the water cycle and the climate. Conversely, water affects people. We need it to drink, for sanitation, to grow food and for transportation.

“We all are physically connected to water. We also are connected to water emotionally. If you have gone to the beach, kayaked down a river, sailed on a lake or sat by a fountain, then you have experienced the draw of water.”

Expanding further

Meanwhile, the Alberta Water Portal Society promotes the Alberta Water Nexus: “Food, energy and people demand water and other resources, and meeting the requirements is challenging due to population growth, economic development and climate change.

“Each sector uses water in different ways and has different priorities. Decision-makers in each sector may not recognize their impacts on other water users. Individual and collective decisions made by people and communities have a large impact on the water-food-energy nexus. Simply stated, our actions and choices result in consequences for our water, food and energy resources.”

This broadening of the picture serves to emphasize the role of water in life, and that only casts a brighter light on the water production, treatment and recycling sectors.

The global picture

Global conditions clearly illuminate the connections between water, people and food. The United Nations says that water scarcity affects every continent. About 1.2 billion people live in areas of scarcity, and another half a billion are approaching that status. Water use has been growing at more than twice the rate of population in the last century.

There is enough freshwater on the planet for our population, but it is distributed unevenly. An increasing number of regions have chronic water shortages, and a great amount of water is wasted, polluted and unsustainably managed. Here in the United States, we are adept at placing huge population centers where there is very little native water.

Then there’s food security. According to the United Nations, one in nine people in the world today — that’s 815 million — are undernourished, the vast majority of them in developing countries, and two-thirds of them in Asia.

Poor nutrition causes 45 percent of deaths in children under age 5; that’s 3.1 million each year. Some 66 million primary school children attend classes hungry in the developing world. And is there any doubt that ample water supplies are essential to food production?

The industry’s role

A nexus of people, water, energy and food illuminates the need for water stewardship across the board, from industries to utilities to households. The municipal water sector seems to be trending in the right direction. Water utilities are aggressively encouraging conservation, and not just in water-stressed cities and states. They’re stepping up efforts to plug leaks in their systems. In short, they are becoming better stewards of water resources.

On the wastewater side, agencies increasingly reclaim water and use it for in-plant purposes, irrigation and industrial processes. More important, there’s substantial exploration and growth in direct and indirect potable water reuse. Less stress on traditional drinking water supplies means freshwater resources can stretch farther.

The lesson is that the water industry is about much more than just water. That’s a simple, yet essential concept to understand.


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