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In Our Daily Living, Every Drop Counts….

By Phil Jutras ’65, BCEEAN Executive Committee

How many gallons of water do we use for a ten minute shower? What is our daily water use in kitchens or in secondary water consumption in the foods we eat and the products we purchase? Why are lawn sprinklers, still common in the Northeast, becoming scarce in the West? What’s behind the dramatic contrast between domestic water use in the East and the growing crisis in parts of the Northwest? For BC alumni, who may recall running or taking leisurely walks around the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, the very term “Res” captures a tranquil period of undergraduate life. Now, it also calls to mind the story of emerging challenges for todays’ resources on regional, national and worldwide fronts.

In mid-November 2015, the symposium, “Water Summit: Thriving with Change,” took place at Wong Auditorium on the campus of MIT. The summit brought together participants from higher education, business, research and government agencies in response to MIT’s call to address the problems of water shortages, conservation and related technology and management challenges. Embracing a thematic approach, panelists discussed ways to “Interpret, Innovate and Implement” water resource issues related to climate change. Summit speakers called attention to the earth’s projected population rise from 6.8 billion in 2010 to nearly 9 billion in 2050. Population growth contributes to climate change, which, in turn, disrupts traditional weather patterns, affecting reliable supplies of fresh water. In drought regions, millions of people suffer from lack of access to fresh water. While the earth’s surface is just over 70% water, less than one percent of all the water on earth is drinkable and the demand for clean water is doubling every two decades.

The opening “Interpret” panel included Camille Touton from the U.S. Department of Labor, Colonel John Henderson of the U.S. Army, and Scott Doney of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. These panelists focused on how scientific communication can lead to targeted efforts to improve understanding of economic and social facts about water systems worldwide. They maintained that when drought locations are connected with water usage and conservation approaches, managed use of water can begin to occur.

The “Innovate” panel drew attention to how technology research can help build climate change-resistant water systems. Climate change alters the hydrological cycle and causes serious fluctuation in clean water systems. Intense precipitation in some parts of earth results in flooding, while other areas remain parched. The panel of Larry Susskind from MIT, Dennis Carlberg of Boston University and Steven Estes-Smargiassi of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, posit that a new direction should begin with mediating the water stresses through government and economic policies.

Two featured speakers, Kenneth Strzepedk of MIT Science and Policy for Global Change and Curt Spalding of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s New England Region I, discussed “Implementation” by noting a number of water systems initiatives, including those in Vermont and New Hampshire, which received recent EPA awards for upgrading wastewater and improving drinking water systems. These noteworthy initiatives applied holistic approaches to finding environmental solutions with technology.  Advanced desalinization technologies, new water purification systems, slowing glacier melt, and innovative approaches to extracting water from the atmosphere were highlighted in the final panel and networking sessions. 

As a BC alumnus, it seems those visits to the Chestnut Hill Reservoir during college days were symbolic of a bucolic era; now they serve as a reminder of an increasingly scarce natural resource in today’s complex water use story.

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