Water Expert Symposium Focuses on Education
America's growing water challenges can't be readily solved unless all stakeholders – policy makers, scientists, engineers, government officials, municipalities, and the general public – have a better understanding of the key issues and truly appreciate water's contribution to quality of life.
That was one of the major conclusions of "At Water's Edge: The 21st Century Agenda in Water Strategy and Technology," an EnVisioneering symposium hosted by Danfoss Drives. The event, held Oct. 18 at the InterContinental Hotel in Chicago, brought together some 20 water industry experts.
The symposium featured four speakers:
•Polly Trottenberg, executive director of Building America's Future, Washington, D.C., a new non-profit organization dedicated to bringing about a new era of U.S. investment in infrastructure.
•Betsy Otto, vice president of strategic partnerships for American Rivers, Washington, D.C., which strives to protect and promote U.S. rivers as valuable assets vital to health, safety and quality of life.
•Mark Shannon, director of the National Science Foundation's Center of Advanced Materials for the Purification of Water with Systems and the James W. Bayne professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois.
•Robert Bastian, a senior environmental scientist with the Office of Waste Water Management, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C.
Robert Wilkins, president of Danfoss Inc., helped frame the discussion during his opening remarks. "Today, the U.S. is approaching a threshold," he said. "Between 1900 and 2000, our population increased over 300 percent and became acutely urban and suburban. At this present rate of growth, we will reach 400 million by 2050. And this demographic transformation is being conducted on a water infrastructure largely designed in another era and for another era."
The population explosion, both in the U.S. and abroad, will put tremendous stress on global water supplies – 99.23 percent of which are unusable for most humans, according to Shannon. By 2030, he predicts that many U.S. cities – Atlanta, Chicago and Denver are prime examples -- will see "massive increases in water usage."
Shannon added that, as U.S. water supplies are dwindling, contamination of those supplies has increased. As a result, there's a corresponding need for more water treatment, adding additional stress to an already overburdened system – a system that has relied heavily on financial support from state and local governments.
"The federal government's commitment to infrastructure has been declining since the 1950s and '60s," Trottenberg noted. "We need to increase our investment in infrastructure across the board – water, transportation, energy."
That point was seconded by EPA's Bastian. He noted that, since the Clean Water Act became federal law in 1972, the U.S. has successfully cleaned up many water supplies.
Shannon said the best technological innovations are coming from Asia, Europe, and the Middle East – not the United States. He believes U.S. scientists and companies can successfully provide solutions to America's water challenges. He also believes the federal government can be a catalyst for innovation.
"The U.S. needs to regain the innovation and competitive lead," Shannon said.
That can be accomplished, symposium attendees agreed, by making water management a high national priority – in the same way that energy has become a top national priority in the past year.
Danfoss manufactures electronic and mechanical components and control systems for refrigeration and air conditioning, heating, and motion controls.