For those who missed it, an archived video of the inaugural aquaNOW Audience, "Competition for Water Resources," produced by OOSKAnews and held yesterday (October 2nd) in Oban, Scotland, is now available online.
High-level panelists participating in the web-streamed seminar described what they saw as the greatest water-related challenges and the greatest misunderstandings among the public when it comes to global water problems.
Moderator David Duncan, CEO of OOSKAnews, asked participants which issue related to water “keeps them up at night.”
Dr. Paul Tett, Reader in Coastal Systems at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), which hosted the event, cited rising sea levels as the most pressing global water issue.
SAMS, a part of the Unversity of the Highlands and Islands in Scotland and a United Nations University, delivers world-class marine science that supports society, with innovative solutions for a sustainable relationship with the marine environment.
Tett said that the estimates for sea-level rise -- 30 to 90 centimeters -- do not sound drastic, but once high tides and storm surges are factored in, those levels would actually rise by as much as 3 or 4 meters, which could cause extensive flooding, since a large portion of the world’s population lives 3 to 4 meters from the sea.
Renee Martin-Nagle, Visiting Scholar with the Environmental Law Institute in Washington DC, said the rate at which aquifers are being pumped out, especially the depletion of fossil aquifers, which have no natural replenishing capability, is most alarming.
If we deplete the world’s aquifers all for our own needs, we will be leaving ecosystems without freshwater, which will have an enormous impact on biodiversity, she warned.
Juan Carlos Sanchez, Visiting Scholar at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Center for Water Law at the University of Dundee in Scotland, cited the lack of a regulatory framework on the majority of the world’s shared waterways.
Sanchez is one of a number of participants in Scotland's Hydro Nation Scholarship Program.
Out of the world’s 276 shared rivers, only 40 percent have some king of managing mechanism, he said. Having an institutional element can combat many problems facing a shared basin, including issues of over extraction, regulating flows, determing what share each state receives, and climate change, he added.
However, Sanchez and Martin-Nagle were optimistic that most communities around the world understand the need to cooperate in managing shared water resources. There is little evidence globally of conflicts breaking out exclusively over water, he noted.
For Dr. John Matthews, executive director of the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA), said the failure to talk about sustainability of water management decisions over the very long term -- hundreds of years, rather than decades -- is a major issue. Regulations are often not flexible enough to take into consideration future changes in the water situation in a given region, he said.
Matthews joined the Oban Audience by video link from the US West Coast. His organization, AGWA, is an alliance of development banks, government agencies, NGOs and the private sector focused on managing water resources in a sustainable way.
Kevin Jeffrey, owner of wastewater treatment solutions company Wastewater Wizard, cited the need to educate the public -- particularly the younger generation -- to have a better understanding of water issues. This is necessary to ensure that knowledgeable people are able to take over and work on global water problems in the next 20-30 years, he said.
Wastewater Wizard, an innovative Scottish water technology company, designs and manufactures wastewater treatment systems using worm-based technology (vermifiltration) that delivers a cost-effecive and sustainable treatment solution to liquid organic wastes.
Richard Allan, Fellow at the James Hutton Institute and chairman of the "Strategic Advisory Board: Environment" at the European Committee for Standardization in Brussels, said better demand management was vital given the limited resources available and competing demands, including water demand for food and energy production.
The James Hutton Institute is an international research center based in Scotland that tackles some of the world's most challenging problems, including the impact of climate change and threats to food and water security.
When asked about the biggest misunderstandings they see with regard to water, panelists agreed that the degree to which water is embedded in “everything” -- from food, to energy, to manufacturing -- is not widely enough understood.
As Martin-Nagle pointed out, “the global water crisis is not just about drinking water.”
Sanchez also reflected that the water sector globally lacks “champions” – both individuals and states – who will take on a leadership role in raising awareness about water issues. In this context, Sanchez and other panelists commended Scotland on attracting the XV World Water Congress of the International Water Resources Association, which will take place in Edinburgh in May 2015.
Jeffrey and Allan saw cost as a major source of misunderstanding. Jeffrey noted that people often see no reason that they should pay for water, largely because they are not aware of the costs of treating and distributing it. Allan noted that while it is not difficult to calculate the “cost” of water provision, it is more difficult to identify the “value” of water to users.
Matthews said that it is widely believed that most water decisions are made by specialists at a macro level, who often do not take a holistic view of the resource. In reality, everyone should consider him- or herself a water manager and recognize the implications of the decisions made about water use on a daily basis, he said.
Tett said that from his perspective, common misconceptions arise from the fact that the best solutions to water problems are sometimes counterintuitive. For example, he explained, “dykes are not the best way of stopping floods” along rivers. Building up riverbeds only tends to force water to flow faster downstream, while widening a river can actually prevent the problem. In the same way, taking down seawalls and allowing salt marshes and mangroves -- what he called “soft engineering” -- to develop can be more effective at protecting coastlines, he concluded.
aquaNOW Audiences is a series of web-streamed seminars designed to engage global audiences with critical water-related challenges. The first six aquaNOW Audiences will be physically hosted in Scotland -- the Hydro Nation -- over the next 12 months, and be web-streamed live to an international viewership.
The next Audience will be held in Edinburgh on November 11, 2014.
aquaNOW Audience themes include disparate perspectives on competing demands on water resources; climate change; investment finance and governance; development aid; business risk and opportunity; and popular, political and media awareness of critical water challenges. The series will also showcase exemplars of Scottish excellence in water technology, water governance, and water research.
Sponsors and supporters include the Scottish Government, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Enterprise/Scottish Development International, and aquaNOW.info.