World Water Congress: Gabriel Eckstein Looks Forward to Scotland

EDINBURGH, Scotland, United Kingdom

The XVth World Water Congress of the International Water Resources Association (IWRA) will meet in Edinburgh, Scotland, on May 25-29, 2015.

OOSKAnews caught up with Gabriel Eckstein, professor of law at Texas A&M University School of Law and Member of the Texas A&M University Water Management and Hydrological Science Graduate Faculty. Professor Eckstein specializes in water and environmental law and policy, and has served as an expert adviser and consultant on US and international environmental and water issues to various organizations and programs, including the Geneva Initiative, the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s International Hydrological Program (UNESCO-IHP), the UN International Law Commission (UNILC), the UN Environment Program (UNEP), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the World Commission on Dams, the Organization of American States (OAS), the UNESCO/OAS ISARM Americas Program, and various local water entities in the United States. He serves on the Executive Board of the IWRA and on the International Scientific Committee of the World Water Congress.

OOSKAnews: Could you explain Gabriel Eckstein and your part in the world water family for the benefit of our readers?

 

Eckstein: I come to the issue of water from a very interdisciplinary perspective.  I have a geology degree, I have a law degree, an international affairs degree, I’m an academic working full time on a law faculty at Texas A&M University, and most of my research and my scholarship and my teaching integrates science, policy, and law.  Virtually everything I do, it integrates all three. 

OOSKAnews: Tell us about the International Water Law Project.

Eckstein: The International Water Law Project is an Internet-based resource on global trans-boundary water law and policy issues and information. It was the product of my own research when I started looking into this topic in the mid-1990s, and just started talking to colleagues and people from around the world about the lack of information and the availability of information.  I started throwing some of my research up on the web and started getting a lot of interest in it -- not necessarily just my research, but documents I was able to find, the type of documents that had not been made public. …I thought it would be a great idea to try and make all this information, all these resources, publically available -- treaties, international agreements, declarations, resolutions, UN documents, and also research from people from around the world.  The project has grown beyond my expectations. I think we’re getting somewhere around 4,000-plus unique visitors a month. So I know there is an interest there, and I hope that it is something we can continue building as a public resource. The sole purpose is to make this information publicly available and to facilitate information-sharing, data-sharing and cooperation over global and trans-boundary freshwater resources. 

OOSKAnews: What is the single water-related issue that keeps you awake at night?

Eckstein: I think it’s the issue that is most prominent globally, and that’s climate change. Again, I look at it from a perspective of water and water law. The most significant impact I think we’re going to see, and the most immediate impact from climatic variability, is on freshwater resources -- lack of availability, changing precipitation levels, changes in groundwater levels. I live in Texas, and it’s really dry, and it’s going to get a heck of a lot drier, and it’s a really big challenge for the local, state, and national governments here to try to figure out how you deal with this issue on a regional and global scale. And trying to renew dwindling water resources, that’s probably the biggest single issue that troubles me. 

OOSKAnews: The theme of the XVth Congress is, “Global water, a resource for development: Opportunities, Challenges, and Constraints.” People talk about the challenges and constraints a lot, but perhaps you can speak to the opportunities.  What is meant by “opportunities” in this theme, and where do you see these opportunities arising?

Eckstein: There are multiple opportunities -- some of them that come to mind are tied to cooperation between states and between regions .... A really interesting area is groundwater. It’s growing, as a challenge, at such a pace that we can’t even calculate in many regions how fast we’re extracting local and regional groundwater resources.  In many places, especially at the trans-boundary level, we haven’t even characterized the aquifers. ...At the same time, there is somewhere around 100 times more water, accessible water, in groundwater around the world than there is in surface water in lakes, rivers, streams, swamps and so on. So I think there are great opportunities there, but I also think there are great challenges, because we’re not monitoring our extraction as well as we should be. The opportunity comes in through cooperation where local, regional, and national governments get together and build plans and strategies to manage water resources as sustainably and as efficiently as possible. 

OOSKAnews: A recurring theme in these conversations and among the world water family is how to engage with other related business sectors and communities and less direct stakeholders in water, as well as broader societal awareness of water challenges and a more educated media. What could the water family be doing better to raise awareness about water as a critical strategic resource?

Eckstein: There are quite a number of conferences that are business- and industry-oriented, focusing on water, but our two worlds are not intersecting and I think part of the educational challenge is to get the private sector -- which is definitely interested in conserving water issues, but maybe from a different perspective -- together with the researchers, and the academics, the non-profits, and the human rights folks and have a good discussion there, because I think we’re addressing the same issues from different perspectives, but we’re not doing it together. 

Corporations have tremendous opportunities and impacts in terms of educating their consumers, but obviously they are doing it from an entirely business perspective. …They don’t want to see water resources dwindling because they want to have a sustainable business model. …I think these folks connected to industry should be invited to the non-industry conferences so we can start integrating our interests, because I do think that we do share many, many, of the same interests.

OOSKAnews: The XVth Congress is coming to Edinburgh in May 2015. This is the first time the World Water Congress has been hosted in Scotland.  The Scottish Parliament has passed legislation declaring Scotland the Hydro Nation, and “developing the water economy” is a phrase that is often repeated.  What was the thinking of the IWRA in bringing this prestigious event to Edinburgh?

Eckstein: When the government of Scotland presented their proposal, I think that the IWRA was very excited, because having heard about Scotland’s interest in global water issues and presenting itself and investing itself as the Hydro Nation, we knew that there was going to be a partner that was very involved, very wedded to the notion of global water management, sustainability, investigating new opportunities for enhancing water availability or water technology, and distribution, as well as addressing some of the social and human issues and environmental issues around the world.  The IWRA is very excited. We are all very much looking forward to this.

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