Water: Think Globally, Act Locally

The world is facing a water crisis, and existing development and management practices are only making it worse. This interview with water expert Peter Gleick looks at what's being done wrong and how it can be done right.
February 22, 2009, 9am PST | Nate Berg
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"A report from the World Economic Forum warned that in only twenty years our civilization may be facing "water bankruptcy"--shortfalls of fresh water so large and pervasive that global food production could crater, meaning that we'd lose the equivalent of the entire grain production of the US and India combined."

"The Nation: One of your points on the soft path is about matching the quality of water with its use so that we are no longer flushing our toilets or watering our lawns with potable water. How can we begin to make this transition?

Peter Gleick: We are making it. The places that are really water scarce are making that transition faster than other places. Water re-use has been going on for many years in Namibia. Singapore is moving very aggressively to something called NEWater, which is a state-of-the-art water treatment that is not used for direct potable re-use right away but for other demands for water. We can treat any quality water to potable standards. We have the technology. There is a psychological barrier and an education barrier and an expense barrier, but we are seeing it more and more. Another barrier is that we have one set of pipes that come into our homes. We don't need potable water for flushing our toilets, but often that is the only water we have. So part of the challenge is changing our infrastructure, so we can use different qualities of water for different purposes. That takes investment: money, time and education.

The Nation: So who should be doing this? Cities? States?

Peter Gleick: In general, we want our water to be managed and regulated at the lowest possible level: the most local. We want communities making decisions about water management, where appropriate. But there are things we want at the federal level--like efficiency standards and water-quality standards. One of the key points of the soft path is to manage water at the proper level."

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Published on Monday, February 16, 2009 in The Nation
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