Water in a Changing Climate
As our planet gets warmer, precipitation patterns change, wind currents shift, and ocean temperatures rise. Climate change has profound implications for water supplies. This presentation explores the increasing impact on stream flows, lake and reservoir levels, hydropower production, and the availability of water for farms and cities.
Scientists predicted that climate change would occasion more extreme weather events. The last few years have produced extraordinarily powerful hurricanes, momentous storm surges, unprecedented flooding and historic forest fires. In the United States, these events caused loss of life and property, disabled critical infrastructure (including power plants), and displaced hundreds of thousands of people. California forest fires were the immediate cause of Pacific Gas & Electricity (PG&E), the nation’s oldest electric utility, filing for bankruptcy.
Glennon calls for adapting to these changed conditions by building resilience into our water management institutions. He advocates borrowing principles of risk mitigation developed by hedge funds, insurance companies, and commodity markets to the world of water.
Our Thirst for Energy: Water and the Innovation Economy
Our innovation economy and our water system are closely linked: it takes water to power technology and it takes energy and technology to transport, cleanse, and deliver water. This symbiotic relationship drives our economy from Silicon Valley to the Farm Belt. The nexus between water and energy creates shortages of both, driven by the demands of ethanol production, hydraulic fracking, solar energy expansion, tech company “server farms,” and desalination of ocean water.
As we search for solutions, a formidable problem is that the price of water is too low. This presentation connects the dots between the cloud-based economy, energy, water, clean tech, plug-in vehicles, and agriculture. It offers solutions, including using price signals and market forces, to enable the innovation community to be disruptive in the water space.
America’s Water Crisis and What to Do About It
America’s water crisis is self-inflicted. Across the United States, even in places that are not particularly dry or hot, communities, farmers, and factories are struggling to find water, and even running out altogether. Our water woes will get worse before they get better because we are slow to change our ways, and because water is the overlooked resource. From the Vegas Strip to faux snow in Atlanta, from mega-farms to Washington’s love affair with biofuels, heady extravagances and everyday waste are sucking the nation dry. We cannot engineer our way out of the problem with the usual fixes or zany schemes. America must make hard choices, and Glennon’s answer is a provocative market-based system that values water as a commodity and a fundamental human right.
Our Future in a Warming, Water-Stressed World
Population growth and climate change present an immense challenge: How will we feed the Earth’s population, estimated to be 10+ billion by 2050? Farmers currently use 80 percent of available water, but cities and industry need more water. A profound challenge faces us: How do we keep rural agricultural communities vibrant so they can produce food for the world, and satisfy the demand of municipal and industrial users for more water?
Technological developments promise another green revolution, but at a great cost. Pioneering food and beverage companies are pushing the boundaries of innovation with water reuse programs that reduce their water footprints as they improve their bottom lines. Glennon explores options for protecting rural communities while securing a food supply for the globe.
Imagining the Water Future
In a world of 10+ billion people, where will the water come from to grow our food, slack our thirsts, nourish our economy, and preserve our environment?
Imagine a future when technology allows cities to detect leaks in their water and wastewater pipes, thus saving trillions of gallons of water while eliminating the discharge of hundreds of millions of gallons of raw sewage into our rivers, lakes, and coastal estuaries. Imagine a future where we don’t dispose of human waste with traditional toilets and where smart phone apps provide 24/7 information about our water use. Imagine a future when cities and business embrace “the circular economy,” virtually eliminating the need for landfills.
Our water future is closer than you may think.
Moral Stewardship of Our Most Precious Resource: Water
A Native American proverb admonishes: “We don’t inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” We’re drinking the same water as the dinosaurs did. There is no more water available; nor will there ever be. Water is a public resource with spiritual, cultural, aesthetic, ecological, and economic value. We must be good stewards.
This talk explores the environmental and moral implications behind: government subsidies for profligate water use; bottled water; exporting water; unsustainable groundwater pumping; the commodification of water; and our individual “water footprints.” It argues for a human right to water and urges governments to price water sensibly to encourage water conservation. It offers a call-to-action to faith-based organizations and conscientious civic groups to drive policy to promote sustainable water use.
Water and the Circular Economy
From Corporate Social Responsibility to Reduce-Reuse-Recycle to triple-bottom-line accounting, corporations increasingly understand that the world beyond their stakeholders and customers affects their long-term viability. An exciting new paradigm is replacing the linear “take-make-waste” model. In the “circular economy”—a regenerative model—businesses tackle environmental problems and, simultaneously, stimulate economic growth.
This presentation examines water in the circular economy by exploring developments in water and wastewater technology, desalination, and water reuse. “Wastewater” no longer aptly describes municipal sewage, which can be used to generate heat and electricity, as fertilizer for fields, and as the source of magnesium and calcium for industrial use.
As corporations adopt circular economy principles, they can reduce waste, cut expenses, and increase their profits. The circular economy empowers companies to do well by doing good.
The Uncertain Future of the Colorado River
In 1869, John Wesley Powell set off down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon to explore the last uncharted region in the United States. He and his men survived, but barely. Nine years later, he delivered his Report on the Lands of the Arid Region of the United States. The intrepid explorer concluded that the limited water resources in the American West required a new approach to settlement. Powell observed that all the water in the West was not enough to irrigate all the land.
As the United States celebrates the 150th anniversary of his iconic voyage, let’s consider his influence on the settlement of the American West and examine the role of the Colorado River in contemporary America. Powell’s contemporaries rejected his ideas but he’s the one who correctly predicted the future.
The Colorado River is not a big river, compared to the Mississippi, Missouri or Columbia Rivers. Yet it’s the lifeblood of the Southwest. Nearly 40 million people rely on the river and its tributaries for their municipal water supplies. The river’s water irrigates nearly 4.5 million acres of farm land, helping to feed not just the United States but the world. Its dams supply more than 4,200 megawatts of electric energy – clean renewable power.
But the River faces a crisis because, in most years, diversions from the River dry it up. The essential problem is that demand exceeds supply. The amount of water rights exceeds the amount of water in the River. The Colorado River Basin States are playing an adult version of the child’s game of musical chairs. When will the music stop?
Is It Safe to Eat Your Vegetables?
Did Mom lie when she told us to be sure to eat our vegetables? In 2006, three people died, dozens suffered liver failure and hundreds became sick from eating contaminated spinach in California. People in 26 states were affected. The outbreak was traced to bagged fresh spinach. In 2015, Chipotle, the fast-food darling for customers who want healthy food without GMO ingredients, faced a series of health crises. More than 500 customers got sick after eating at Chipotle’s restaurants. The illnesses led to class action lawsuits, a federal criminal investigation and a loss of consumer confidence in the safety of Chipotle’s food. In 2018, farmers in Yuma, Arizona, which provides 90 percent of the Nation’s fresh leafy greens in the winter, sold Romaine lettuce contaminated with E. coli that sickened more than 200 people in 36 states. Five of them died.
Food safety is an enormously important but not well understood part of food production. The process of preparing and cooking food destroys most bacteria and pathogens. However, lettuce, other leafy greens and fruit are usually eaten raw, which makes it more important and more challenging to insure food safety. Water can be both the cause of contamination and the solution to it. With the explosion in popularity of pre-washed and bagged produce, it’s a wonder there aren’t more outbreaks of contamination. This presentation will explore the extraordinary steps that food producers and scientists are taking to keep us safe.