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Water in 2025 - Transcript

On April 10, 2008, Popular Mechanics and the National Science Foundation presented "Bridges to the Future: A vision for infrastructure in the 21st century," a webcast discussion exploring the best ideas for improving American infrastructure and building a better, safer future. This is a transcript of one of the panels. For links to the other panels' transcripts or for more information about the webcast, see the Bridges home page.

>> Jennifer Bogo: Good afternoon. I would like to welcome everyone to Water 2025; a round table on what is rapidly becoming one of our most precious and at times most contentious natural resources. We need water to drink. That is obviously. But water also profoundly affects our health, our economy, our food and our energy production. Meanwhile, pressures on supplies are growing. Around the country, water is being lift on (ph) from aquifers fasters than it is falling back to earth as rain. Plus we're dealing with new classes of contaminants, aging infrastructure and ramifications from global warning, including more intense drought. Today our panelists are going to address these challenges and also offer so prescriptions for how we can move to a safer and more sustainable water supply. I'd like to briefly introduce them now. In the studio next to me, we have Pat Mulroy, who is the General Manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. We have Daniel Sheer, who is the President of Hydrologics. And we have Mark Houck, who is a Professor of Civil and Environmental and Infrastructure Engineering at George Mason University. Joining us remotely are Marc Edwards, who is a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech and also Jerald Schnoor, who is a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Iowa. Before we get started, I have a couple of quick announcements to make. First, for anyone who may be calling in over the phone, when you're on the line, please turn down the volume of the webcast. Second, anyone in the live audience who would like to ask questions, you must have a microphone to ask them, so please indicate that you would like a microphone. Third, everyone please take this opportunity now to turn off your cell phones. I'm going to start by asking each of the panelists a question and then we're going to open it up. Dr. Schnoor, I'd actually like to start with you. It seems we've put a lot of effort and a lot of technology into predicting how much it might rain. Do we have the same tools to measure how long our water supplies might last?

>> Jerald Schnoor: The issue of monitoring our national water supplies, how much water do we have in reservoirs, in rivers, lakes, even in soil moisture, even in frozen water, our glaciers and snowpack, is really in infancy. We don't have good daily or hourly accounting of all the withdrawals and the inputs of water to the system. That's one of the things we're proposing we'd like to see more of, a waters network in the future. National Science Foundation is helping us with plans to build a national water monitoring, observing and forecasting network for both quantity and quality.

>> Jennifer Bogo: And when would that go online?

>> Jerald Schnoor: It would begin to be built in 2012 and finished in--.

>> Jennifer Bogo: Okay, we're having trouble hearing you so we're actually going to move on to Pat Mulroy. Arid western states in particular have to deal with limited resources and that same situation has become acrimonious in other areas of the country this year. How do neighboring states move forward in sharing what's becoming a very limited resource?

>> Patricia Mulroy: Well, the seven states in the Colorado River Basin face that challenge since the big drought began in 2000. We have two--the two main storage reservoirs are 44 percent for Lake Powell and 50 percent for Lake Mead at this point, which is a pretty daunting set of realities. It was a very difficult process to go through, but I think it was a very learning experience for all of us to realize that if we work together and we looked for solutions that protected the entire water shed and didn't try to become very myopic in what we saw as our mission, but protection of the entire Colorado River watershed and began to appreciate the strengths that our neighbors could give us through this cooperation, it made all the difference in the world. The agreements that we signed in December were historic. Some have compared them in significance to the original compact. If the drought in the lower portion of the Colorado gets really bad, I know that ourselves as the urban area in Nevada, Southern California and the Arizona cities know that only together working as closely together as we possibly can, can we even provide a modicum of protection to our various constituencies.

>> Jennifer Bogo: Now Dan Sheer, there's a lot of end uses for what besides just drinking water. There's also the need for water for recreation, and for protecting habitat, for ecosystems, endangered species. I guess in the end I'm wondering is it possible to satisfy them all? Can you have recreation and have drinking water?

>> Daniel Scheer: In most cases, in my experience that's true. The most important fact to recognize is that water that falls in the reservoirs or goes into streams can be used many times by many people before it flows to the sea or it evaporates. And by maximizing the use and reuse of that water, we certainly can do a much better job of maintaining environmental ecosystems while allowing urban users to use water and return most of it to the stream while at the same time allowing agriculture to irrigate with water if they do so efficiently and industries to use water either consumptively and return it to the stream. By maximizing the use of water and the timing of our releases so perhaps we're using more water at times when we need it in stream for other uses as well or maybe having storage reservoir downstream so we can catch some of the surplus, in a middle reach, we can do much better with the resources that we have. It's a question of operating as if everyone can get along. Same thing that Pat just said.

>> Jennifer Bogo: So that's a level of sort of an overarching water management strategy. Mark Houck, I'm interested also in the engineering of the actual infrastructure. I understand that engineering has changed a lot in the last 50 years. How has that affected the way we actually look at water infrastructure today?

>> Mark Houck: All three of the initial responses are right on point with that question because you can only look at very broad issues, systems issues that Pat and Dan raised, if you have the tools to do that and you have the data. So Jerry mentioned we need more data. That's correct. The tools have evolved over the last 40 or 50 years and they come in two primary forms. One is computation. We have computation ability now that we simply didn't have, so all of a sudden we can take advantage of that. The second thing is we have an entire branch of mathematics that is new that allows us to develop tools to look at these much more complex system wide problems and you get the results that have been mentioned here with Nevada and elsewhere.

>> Jennifer Bogo: Marc Edwards, there's been a lot of emphasis on main line pipeline infrastructure and I'm wondering how does the situation for individual homeowners compare? Should people be thinking about the water that actually takes it from their property line to their tap?

>> Marc Edwards: Absolutely. There are two key components to water infrastructure system, there are the big pipes, the reservoirs, the utility zone. Once it gets to the property line, there's an infrastructure system, the pipes in your home, that is of equal value and complexity to operate. So many problems that actually occur in drinking water, including taste and odors, lead in water, growth of harmful pathogens such as leginel (ph) in water heaters, these are directly under the control of the consumer.

>> Jennifer Bogo: So is there a solution? What can people actually do in their home? Do they have to redo their pipes or is there some cheaper solution to actually protecting themselves?

>> Marc Edwards: It depends on the type of the problem. The first step is to identify problems. For instance if you are one of the unusual homes in this country that has a lead in water problem, for instance, you can buy a water filter certified to remove lead from the water to protect yourself and your family. On the water heater side of things it's a little more complicated because one way we control microbes in water heaters is by turning the temperature up. When we do that we have increased energy costs, more scaling in the water heaters and a greater risk of scalding. Right now we really don't know how to counterbalance all those risks and we're looking at that in great detail.

>> Jennifer Bogo: I think at this point we're going to open it up for questions. Cindy, is there any instructions you have for the people who might be trying to call in from home?

>> Operator: Yes. For the parties on the phone, if you would like to ask a question, please press star 1. Please (inaudible) record your name clearly when prompted. Your name is required to introduce your question. One moment, please, for the first question.

>> Jennifer Bogo: Okay. So, Pat, I'm going to come back to you for a moment. I'm really interested in how the public awareness part of the water problem and I understand that's something that the Southern Nevada Water Authority has dealt with very effectively. Basically, how do you get the water users involved, aware that there's a problem, but then to take that next step and actually conserve water?

>> Patricia Mulroy: It's a very multifaceted public outreach campaign. And what we've learned over the last several years is that the public has to perceive that there is a good reason for them to make changes in their life. As insignificant as those may sound academically, they become very difficult for people to make get past the inertia and actually do something. The drought was the catalyst. So as ugly as the drought was, it gave us the opportunity to make some real, permanent changes. We use 70 percent of our water outside. Anything that's used inside is recycled. We're one of the few, if not the only city in the United States, that have 100% reuse. So our focus where we garner additional resources is outside. We embarked on a program to begin paying our customer to take grass out. We've spent now almost $100 million reimbursing our customers for taking out their grass and replanting and putting in desert landscaping. The visual of Lake Mead was very helpful. That coupled with a real profound ad campaign with targeted audiences in the various areas and awareness outreach with our youth and we opened in southern Nevada a new central park which is all dedicated to sustainable living in the desert and looking forward to what does Las Vegas look like in a sustainable world? And water conservation is a key component of it. The kids are starting to pick it up and the kids are your best messengers. The older generation like myself are sometimes a little harder to move. But I think the community came together in a very profound way and it's become a real cultural conversion in southern Nevada more than a drought event. Everything we've done is now permanent, whether it's the turf removal, whether it's the rate structure changes, whether it's watering schedules, whether it's putting golf courses on water budgets, whether it's putting covers on your pools. There is a new heightened level of awareness around water in southern Nevada.

>> Jennifer Bogo: You've gotten there partly by targeting, doing the market research to figure out who you have to send that message to?

>> Patricia Mulroy: It's usually the male population between 25 to 45 as we've come to discover. (laughter) They're in charge of the sprinkler clock. They found it once and they adjusted it and then they piled boxes in front of it.

>> Jennifer Bogo: So where did you advertisements play?

>> Patricia Mulroy: We hit every sports channel. In fact, one of the ads that our team put together with our ad agency and our advertising just won an EFFY award. We have this cute little old lady, walks up to a door, rings the doorbell. The water guy has his sprinkler going on the wrong day. The water is running off his property onto the street. She kicks him in a very uncomfortable place for males and merrily walks off the property. He got the message. (laughter)

>> Jennifer Bogo: That sounds effective.

>> Patricia Mulroy: And then the tagline was, don't make us ask you again. (laughter)

>> Jennifer Bogo: So I'm curious from the rest of our panelists, do you feel like there's a similar maybe not exactly the same, but a similar public awareness effort that needs to go on in terms of other areas of water use or home water infrastructure?

>> Male Speaker: We've managed to help a number of clients resolve very difficult water issues. And the most important thing when you bring people together and get them talking about water issues is to make it clear that, one, it's what benefits they get out of the water are the most important thing, not how much water they get. And that's a really big thing. So usually we will focus on producing displays, which allow us to demonstrate to people what it is they get in their own terms. They design the displays. We just produce them. We look at different ways of managing water and we produce their displays. It is true that once you have developed these displays, that people understand what it is they're really trying to achieve for themselves and also that what other people are trying to achieve for themselves is also legitimate. These issues and the way to manage water becomes much more clear and it's possible to get agreements on what to do.

>> Jennifer Bogo: Jerry Schnoor, I'd like to come back to you for a minute. Might take a second to adjust your volume, but I feel like there's been a lot of media this year on sort of the other end of water, which is contaminants. There is a big AP report on things like pharmaceuticals being in the nation's water supplies. I guess my question for you is do you feel like the public's concerns are in line with what scientists' top concerns are? And how big a problem are these new contaminants anyway?

>> Jerald Schnoor: Well, I think, Jennifer, the verdict is still out on some of the contaminants because they're so new and the measurements are very, very low and the risks, we don't know, of multiple pharmaceuticals or hormones in our drinking water supply. So I would say that the science is still developing and maybe the verdict is still out. But it is true, as Patricia said, it's not only the western United States that has water problems. It's really the entire world and the United States because some places it's quantity, like in southern Nevada, but some places it's quality as well. And certainly agricultural has an impact on our water quality throughout the nation. For example, in Des Moines, they use the Raccoon River as a source of drinking water supply. And the nitrate levels from fertilizers on agriculture has continued to go up, such that they have to actually remove nitrate in order to use the entire river as a water supply. So there's many, many issues confronting our water, both quantity and quality, throughout the country.

>> Patricia Mulroy: Jennifer, could I jump in on that pharmaceutical issue for a second as a water agency that has to deal with these all the time? And water quality is just as much a concern in southern Nevada as quantity is, because as the Lake Mead shrinks, the contamination level concentrate. The frustration for all of us in the water industry and I know there was a lot that was said about industry not being willing to come forward and admit that it was there. In a vacuum, when we don't know when the we're now measuring these parts per trillion which is infinitesimal, to give you put it in perspective, a part per trillion is a half an inch of the distance between here and the moon, if you were to put it in distance measurement, or to put it in time measurement, it's a second in 750 years. So you're talking about something that is absolutely infinitesimal. And when that data comes out in a vacuum, when we don't know what is the relative effect on human health, the fact the pharmaceuticals and endocrine disruptors, which is a fancy name for everything from coffee to Coca-Cola to you name it and it is an endocrine disrupter and it is an environmental issue. But what the effect on human health is, we don't know. So people hear that it's there. They don't understand what a part per trillion means and instantly they become afraid. So how that information is out there. We put it on the internet. We're not hiding from this at all. We spent tens of millions of dollars around doing the science around pharmaceuticals and endocrine disruptors. But what needs to happen is a standard needs to be set, we need to invest as a country. So far the water industry has been the one that's been investing in all the research around pharmaceuticals and endocrine disruptors. But I think the Environmental Protection Agency and the health agencies need to collaborate on science to find out what is harmful and what is totally insignificant. Because before we build even more sophisticated treatments that uses even more energy in an era when we're all looking at what our relative aggregate impact is on the planet in terms of our energy usage, we need to be sure that we're not treating for something that doesn't need to be treated for.

>> Male Speaker: We have a communications problem that seems to be triggered by things like Washington Post article on endocrine disruptors, which may or may not be a valid concern, or pictures of Lake Mead at an incredibly low level. But most of the country doesn't have these things that are going on. So most people that wake up in the morning are not thinking that if they turn on the tap, nothing will come out or that they can't drink it. Most people are very satisfied with their water supplies and they don't take it into account. They don't think about it at all. Which is also a problem. Because we have an aging infrastructure. There are problems that have been long term that have existed for a very long time that we continue to have to deal with. But there are these new potential contaminant problems that may be an issue or not. And we also have quantity issues that may be apparent. There are risks associated with that and we have a problem communicating with society to get those resolved in a coherent fashion. And there are a couple of things that have happened. One is the threats to water supplies and wastewater systems have changed, in particular because while we're incredibly good at dealing with all of the so called random things, you know, a drought, a flood, an earthquake, a volcano, an accident, the pump dies, we're not very good at organized outsiders trying to disrupt things and we're spending a lot of money trying to protect wide open systems or fairly open systems against threats that didn't used to exist. And it's very difficult to do. And we're not doing a very good job of communicating that problem either. So the communication I think is a big deal and if we could solve that, then we can get all the right people at the table and we have the people who can help to resolve them.

>> Jennifer Bogo: How does water infrastructure compare to other infrastructure in this post 9/11 age of vulnerability when we're analyzing our systems?

>> Male Speaker: Incredibly long answer, but basically the water systems are doing a good job. And the wastewater systems are doing a good job and there's lots of details you could go through. In 2003 all water suppliers were required to conduct a vulnerability assessment and then they responded to that and they took care of obvious problems. But there are ongoing issues of how do you address risks that you don't know about? So the water industry has actually been at the forefront of developing a risk assessment methodology that would focus not just on organized outsiders, terrorists, but also on all the rest of the threats that we face. So that you balance you can figure out how would you spend money to get the most bang for the buck. And that's a very difficult question because these systems are very large, they're complex. They involve society in ways that other systems don't.

>> Jennifer Bogo: We're going to check and see if there are any questions from the live audience or if there are any questions from people calling in.

>> Operator: I did not show any questions on the phone.

>> Jennifer Bogo: Okay. Great. So Marc Edwards, I'm going to go back to you for a moment. I understand that trying to treat water, perhaps for some of these new contaminants, actually affects the water infrastructure itself. Can you talk a little bit about the pipelines and how those two things are interrelated?

>> Marc Edwards: Yes. In grappling with these emerging infrastructure issues, there are always unintended consequences. So when we change, for instance, the way in which we treat the water to make it cleaner, according to existing knowledge, such as changing disinfectants, from chlorine to chlorine, we sometimes cause another problem that we never expected, such as increased lead leaching in consumers' homes. Another classic trade-off that is emerging is as we do a better job conserving water in homes, the water sits in your home plumbing longer. And just like milk can go bad if it sits around, to some extent water can go bad too. And what we're finding is as we increase conservation, we have more problems arising from taste and odors and bacteria in consumers' homes. So we almost have to change our way of designing our home plumbing system, building plumbing systems, to be compatible with more sustainable lower water use features. One thing you can be sure of is that as we strive to improve the quality of water further, we will create other problems we never thought of and we're going to have to deal with those as they arise.

>> Jennifer Bogo: Would anyone else like to address that sort of fundamental conflict between water conservation, perhaps, and water quality?

>> Patricia Mulroy: Well, I can understand what he's saying. If water sits stagnant for a long time, for example, any of us that have a surface water supply as our principal source that has organics in it, simply by adding disinfectants to it, you create byproducts, which have been shown to be carcinogenic. So the water for example in our reservoirs, our water has to circulate through within 72 hours. So we very carefully balance how much we put in. We know our customers. We know seasonally what the drawdown in those reservoirs is going to be. But we have to be ever aware of it. There are whole new computer programs out there that very much balance energy use and water quality in order to give you that intricate balance between not allowing your water to go stagnant and using as little energy as you possibly can in the delivery of that water supply. It's not getting easier. It's getting more complicated.

>> Male Speaker: There are other tradeoffs as well. If you think about a situation where you have a drought and you ask everybody to conserve water, the amount of water that you're delivering to everybody's home is less than it used to be. Your bill is a function of how much water you use, typically, which means that the amount of revenue coming into the water company drops at precisely the time that they may need more money to take care of problems associated with the lack of water. So you have--unless the water system is set up to cushion that. You can have severe problems.

>> Male Speaker: It comes down to a question of knowing what you're managing for. And in many cases in this country we don't know the answer to that pretty obvious question to ask. The answer is often not very obvious. I can recount a case in London in the late '70s. There was a severe drought. And the Thames Water Authority told everyone in the basin to conserve water. They were taking water from reservoirs that were off stream, using it, putting it into the Thames and it was coming down to London and being used. As soon as everybody in the basis begin to conserve water, London ran out. It is very important to realize that everything is connected. And when you institute management schemes, you have to look at all of your management objectives. One of the problems, one of the real problems we have in this country, is that no one sets those objectives. For example, the Corp. of engineers Congress gives guidelines to the Corps of Engineers in managing reservoirs, not sufficiently detailed so that the Corps itself can know what it's managing for. So the Corps puts in place an operating scheme, no other guidance from the Congress, and that becomes the status quo. Try and change that status quo and you're up against the wall. For well over 25 years, the Corps has been trying to write a new operating scheme for the Missouri. They can't get it done because no one will let the status quo change. If we can't change the status quo in water management in this country, we can't progress, we will run out of water, we will cost ourselves enormously in terms of the benefits we can get from water and in terms of how we treat the environment and in terms of how our economy develops.

>> Patricia Mulroy: And just to add to that, I mean, moving forward into this century, it is going to be I've got to pick up right where Dan left off. The inability of communities, of governments and of water institutions to recognize that everything they've taken for granted in the past has changed. All of the givens that they used to believe in, they can just throw them away. And that the future is about adapting and adapting as quickly as you can, making course corrections, not trying to say I'm going to enter into an agreement or set up a resource plan today that will last me into perpetuity. Perpetuity doesn't exist. And it's going to have to change and be tweaked all along the way. So this need to replace this rigidity that we've lived in with flexibility is the key for this country to continue to be able to be as oblivious to its water supply as, quite frankly, they are in most instances.

>> Jennifer Bogo: I think we have a question from the audience. Jim?

>> Audience: This is Jim Meigs, Editor-in-Chief of Popular Mechanics. I'm intrigued by the paradox that water utilities face that when there's a drought and usage declines, their revenue declines. In most markets when there's a shortage of something, the price goes up. And I'm intrigued by the question of the consensus that we are facing long term water shortages, running out of water. Should we face the challenging thought that most of us just aren't paying anywhere near what the water we use is actually worth?

>> Patricia Mulroy: We've got to be careful with that, because, you know, I can it may not be my chosen lifestyle, but I can live without energy. I can live without natural gas. I mean, I can physically survive. Humans cannot physically survive without water. And so water becomes a very different and I hate the word commodity. It's not really a commodity. It's a resource. And it's a life essential resource. And what happens on your pricing question is we have these tiered rate structures. What industry makes a profit by dissuading their customers from buying the product that they sell? I mean, we put every incentive in our pricing structure to dissuade you from buying it. Obviously, that's going to have a financial impact. And so you have to move forward cautiously and you have to have some equalizers in there that cover your base cost, while putting those incentives in different pricing brackets. And it's an art, not a science. And it changes community to community.

>> Male Speaker: I think you also have to realize that unlike oil or things that are privately held, water is publicly owned in this country. It goes back to merry old England where the King owned all the water. Now the states, not the federal government, but the states owns the water in each state. Most water companies are not allowed to make a profit on selling water. They may make a profit on the services, but not on selling water. And it is true that the cost of water in other public uses goes up as water becomes more short. And therefore we have the kinds of increasing rate structures. The more you buy, the more you pay for it per unit that Pat talked about. And from the standpoint of maximizing the use of water in a public context, that's right. But it does lead to the perverse implication that you raised, which is that whether it's short, revenue goes down. We need pricing structures that are smart enough to account for that.

>> Jennifer Bogo: We're going to actually take one question that's come via email, but I want to let Dr. Edwards and Dr. Schnoor know if you want to answer any of these questions, feel free to indicate to me perhaps with your hands, to let me know to direct the conversation back to you. From James Mendenhall (ph) he is asking should we not be attempting to capture the increasing amount of fresh water being lost from mountain glaciers or polar ice for water storage use. Do we turn global warming to our advantage in terms of supplies? Anyone want to tackle that one?

>> Jerald Schnoor: Jennifer, this is Jerry in Iowa. I think I can take a stab at that. We have we are already in fact benefiting from the glacier melt worldwide. Communities have increased stream flow. It occurs earlier in the year than it used to. But, of course, we worry about a great reckoning, that eventually the glacial ice will be gone and these communities will have no longer a water resource. That's one of the big concerns about a changing climate. And we are losing glacial ice worldwide.

>> Jennifer Bogo: Okay. From the audience?

>> Audience: Many countries in the world pay much more attention to water than the U.S. because they've had much worse problems. I've seen statistics that war is breaking out, with problems of water shortage, and of course food production is an issue. In that context, a friend of mine does water policy for the Chinese Academy of Sciences. And I asked him what is the impact of energy overall on water? If you had an inexpensive, renewable source of energy available everywhere in China, would that make it possible to solve your dilemmas? He quickly said yes but he didn't give me more details and I'm interested in your thoughts about the strength and nature of the connection and what we should do about it.

>> Patricia Mulroy: There is a tremendous connection between water and energy. It takes very large amounts of water in most instances to cool the power plants, be they nuclear or be they coal. There's now some air cooled gas power technology that uses a D minimus amount of water that's being used in Nevada, for example. And on the flip side, it takes enormous amounts of energy, not just to desalt ocean water but to treat it to the safe drinking water standards. We ozinate (ph) all the water that comes into southern Nevada, huge energy user. And all the pumping costs associated with it. So if there was an inexpensive, renewable source, if you will, one that doesn't add to the global warming phenomenon, then it would be of great benefit to us, as long as it is not hugely water intensive itself. Therein lies the secret.

>> Male Speaker: Another way to address the question, it's not water that's short. The world is covered with oceans. It's fresh water that's short. With energy, you can create fresh water from saltwater. Given enough energy, you have no water problem. Not only can you desalt it, but you can pump it anywhere you want. That's not going to happen in the immediate future. So the question is how do we trade off between water and energy? And there are a lot of tradeoffs that occur. Hydropower generation that uses water stored in reservoirs to generate hydropower. A great way to make more water available is to make sure that you schedule the hydropower so that it occurs when people need the water downstream. If you do that with minimal losses in hydropower, the value of the power produced, because you have to be smart about how you're doing it. You can have the water too. But if you don't do it, then you get a little more value in power and no water. It's a very, very good way to look at how you do things.

>> Male Speaker: I'd like to answer the question.

>> Jennifer Bogo: Could you hang on one moment? Dr. Schnoor, go ahead.

>> Jerald Schnoor: Jennifer, along those lines, it takes water to make energy also as Patricia said. We have a national goal right now, the energy bill of 2007, to make 36 billion gallons by 2022 of biofuels. And so in the Midwest and actually throughout a good portion of the country, we are worried about the water required to implement that goal. It takes a lot of water, especially if you're irrigating corn for ethanol, for example, but also water at the actual production facilities. So our energy needs relate to our increasing water shortages as well.

>> Male Speaker: Everybody's answered the question on a very large scale. I'd like to reduce it to a tiny one. There are interdependencies between almost all of our infrastructure systems. A classic case in Washington, D.C., area was in 2003 a tropical storm came through, but associated with that was some other things that went along. It's sort of like the butterfly effect, where, this is not entirely true, but a branch fell on a wire in Ohio. It was a cascading failure of the electric network that resulted in the Mid Atlantic being without energy for a relatively short period of time. Water treatment plants in northern Virginia lost power for eight to ten hours. Without energy, you can't treat the water and you can't pump it around. So the result of this outage was that a notice went out for health effects. Everybody has to boil their water. And the other thing that happened was the amount of water available for other users went down. So all of a sudden the emergency response system suffered. Hospitals were close to turning away patients, not because they didn't have water for people to drink, but because they simply couldn't do laundry. They couldn't clean sheets. So they didn't have a bed that was clean to put a new patient in. There were buildings in the area that have closed windows that you can't open. Well, you need water to purify the air and circulate it in those buildings. Air quality degrades over time and they were getting close to having to get out. Turns out that the gas company thought that the water supply was so reliable that they used the water supply to cool their pumps. Well, without the water supply, they can't. The second energy source in the region was forced down. And all of these cascading effects within infrastructure systems and across were not necessarily known ahead of time to the upstream infrastructure system. They didn't know who their critical customers were. They thought they knew, but people acted independently and it's that system effect across infrastructure systems that can get you.

>> Patricia Mulroy: And a final note on ocean desalting. It is an unbelievable resource. But it doesn't come without its set of environmental consequences.

>> Male Speaker: That's true.

>> Patricia Mulroy: And it depends on the magnitude of the desalting effort. You've got to put the brine somewhere. And what happens when you start brine loading the oceans? They look enormous to us now, but where you put it and how the current is distributed and how it moves around is incredibly important to the ecosystem. And we can't solve one problem at the expense of another.

>> Jennifer Bogo: Marc Edwards, perhaps this is one that you could address. C. Johns (ph) is asking given the majority of water is actually for nonpotable uses, such as irrigation of lawns, etc... what's your opinion with respect to treating lower quality water for those uses and then maybe provider consumers with point of use devices in order to supply them with potable water?

>> Marc Edwards: Well, that's something that's going to have to be increasingly looked at. As the viewer correctly mentioned, the typical water use per person for drinking and cooking, is only a tiny fraction of the total, on the order of say, two to three liters per day. In many parts of the country it makes economic sense to use point of use devices, pitcher type filters or in home devices to remove contaminants just for that small volume of water used for cooking and drinking as opposed to treating every drop to that same standard. So in green building, for example, more and more folks are incorporating gray water recycling, cistern collection to flush toilets and we're going to see more and more emphasis on lower volumes of higher quality water and that might in deeds mean more use of home treatment devices, which has its own set of problems, because the homeowner has to maintain those, pay for those themselves.

>> Jennifer Bogo: And, Dr. Sheer, we actually have a follow up to your comment on biofuels. And that is from someone in Oklahoma. Matthew wants to know what your basically are there types of biofuels that would be more compatible with water use in the future? Perhaps nonirrigated crops or other forms.

>> Daniel Scheer: Certainly nonirrigated crops is one of the ways to go. Most people think the second generation of biofuels that will take us to this 36 billion gallon a year national goal will be from cellulosic sources, so woody plants or miscanthus or switch grass, maybe even prairie polyculture, replanting the prairies. It's generally suspected that these will use less water. They'll be much kinder to the environment, hold soil in place, require fewer pesticides and nutrients and be a much better solution to the problem. Unfortunately, we're not there yet. We still probably need some improvements in technology in order to have second-generation cellulosic ethanol. So for the time being we're producing it from corn and from soybeans and some of that is irrigated and production facilities do require high purity water.

>> Jennifer Bogo: I think we're actually going to check in with the operator to find out if we have any calls coming in over the phone lines.

>> Operator: I do not show any questions at this time.

>> Jennifer Bogo: Okay. Thank you. So we had one more question from Jason Crull (ph) and he's asking if someone can speak to the tradeoffs between treating drinking water to remove micro pollutants versus treating wastewater and having source water protection to remove the micro pollutants from the system. Can you follow that? I think the question is source protection versus treating micro pollutants.

>> Patricia Mulroy: In other words, those of us who take treated wastewater and we discharge it into a lake or river, that's a valid point. And I tell you what's probably to me the most compelling. It's not that the technology is not there. In fact we employ it to polish that water and treat that water to virtually distilled levels if we wanted to before we bring it in to our customer's homes. The issue is how much of these contaminants can the rest of the environment sustain? For example, the whole issue of endocrine disruptors is manifesting itself first in fish rather than manifest itself human beings. It's first an environmental issue. To have what we want at the least cost, to sacrifice the rest of the ecosystem makes little sense to me. So there is a balance that needs to be struck. And there needs to be a high degree of treatment before we put it back in the environment. Especially in areas where those reservoirs or lakes are shrinking because of drought, because of that whole issue of, you know, the less the water supply the less pollution there is and the more concentration (inaudible).

>> Jennifer Bogo: Okay. I would love to ask a little bit more actually about the water, the national network for monitoring water that is being developed and actually find out what the plans are for perhaps using that experimentally to find out what the ramifications are of different policies. Dr. Schnoor, could you take that?

>> Jerald Schnoor: For the water network there is a plan to try to use real time sensors and breakthroughs in wireless technology and high performance computing to give us a heads up on our water, both the quantity of water throughout the nation and the quality of water. But it really is still just a dream in the planning stages that we do have new sensors which can look for things like harmful algo (ph) blooms, look for pathogens coming downrivers toward water supply so that we could change our drinking water source and also we could monitor better protection, source water protection that you mentioned earlier. We think this is the way to go, the use of modern technologies, realtime for forecasting our water quality and quantity. But at this point in time it's still a dream, one that we're trying to construct through the National Science Foundation.

>> Male Speaker: And if I may, it is a dream, and it's very difficult to implement. And I think that it's time that for those who are against it the game is up. Water monitoring budgets are the first thing cut in budgetary cycles. And in part it's because people don't want to know what Pat and I and Mark and I and everyone on this panel has been talking about adaptive management. If you don't know what's out there, you can't adapt to it. We don't have enough water data. We need more water data. It's a bad idea not to know. Go tell your congressman.

>> Patricia Mulroy: Well, as a follow up note, there are eight of us, the larger utilities in the United States, that have banded together as a climate change action committee and the single most the loudest message that we are delivering to Congress is that it's time to really take the issue of climate change out of the closet. There is a massive amount of science that needs to go into taking those global climate models, making them more useful at a regional level and giving us some tools with which to have more data than we have right now. That nexus between climate and precipitation and how it's going to manifest itself is enormous. And it doesn't matter whether you're on the East Coast or the West Coast, whether it's flooding or whether it's drought. There are impacts that are going to be felt. We have to invest in it. Or we're going to sit there one day and look back and say, oh, my God, why didn't we.

>> Jennifer Bogo: We really haven't talked much about the problem of not just drought, but surface runoff for instance and the effects that might have on our wastewater treatment systems, particularly with global warming, which experts predict may cause heavier rainfalls rather than rainfall distributed over periods of time. Dr. Houck, could you perhaps speak to what effect that may have, whether we should be anticipating 500 year storms versus 100 year storms, for example?

>> Mark Houck: I think it's geographically highly variable. Pat's notion of we need regional information as opposed to global information is right on point because the response is going to be different if you decide that the climate change is going to be more intense, short duration storms as opposed to ones that are spread out more and less intense. And we're going to see all different kinds of changes. So you need to know what kind of change you're going to see and where you're going to see it so that you can adapt locally. And we need to get there. It's going to be a hard thing to do. It's not easy to model the global climate change and make grand pronouncements. It's much more difficult to be sure that you're actually going to see those kinds of changes locally. My experience has been that the water industry specifically is incredibly talented bunch of people. And when they know what the problem is, they can respond quickly. There are cases where in particular up near the Great Lakes where one way to accommodate global climate change was to make the determination that in particular studies, that the 100 year storm, that storm that occurs with the probability of .01 in any one year or once approximately every 100 years, is that happens now, is going to be not that, but instead is going to be what we currently call the 500 year storm. All of a sudden something that is really rare, once every 500 years is going to become more normal. Since most of our design standards for lots of things depend on 100-year events instead of 500. We have to redesign all kinds of things. We have to redesign bridges. We have to it's not just water and water supplies and reservoirs and piping systems. It's other infrastructure.

>> Jennifer Bogo: I have one last question because we have I'm sorry. Actually we'll take one more question from the audience.

>> Audience: Hi. I'm Jerry Bales (ph) from Popular Mechanics. There's a lot of development going on in the country in which we're not having households hooked up to the municipal sewer system, but septic systems and a lot of people using well water because the infrastructure is just not being put into place. I wonder to what extent that's sort of a wildcard because that water use affects the rest of the country as well but it's not really under the control in the same way of larger utilities or municipal systems. Is that a factor that we have to consider both for health and for the water resources that we have going forward?

>> Patricia Mulroy: In the West, it's governed and regulated by the states. They have very strict water rights regulations. They can tell you how much is being pumped out of the ground and they very carefully monitor water quality. You have areas where you and I would say we have way too many septic systems. Those are being looked at very carefully to municipalize those. Because now you've got a concentration of people large enough to where we have to do something about it. But I think your point is well taken. It is a potential source of contamination, both from the well side and from the septic side, and it is one that when we talk about water supply in this country, we often don't even recognize is out there.

>> Jennifer Bogo: Marc Edwards, I think you wanted to address this as well?

>> Marc Edwards: Yeah. There's approximately 60 million Americans who get their water from wells and I happen to be one of them. And as a homeowner operating the system, you are essentially your own water supply. You are 100 percent responsible for the quality of the water to the tap and that includes everything from microbiology impurity to lead and copper. So this is an issue that's to some extent falling off the radar screen because most of our public educational materials are directed to municipal users. We have to do a better job of addressing that and publicizing these problems.

>> Jennifer Bogo: I think we're going to check in with the operator one last time. Do we have any calls yet?

>> Operator: I do not show any questions.

>> Jennifer Bogo: We have actually got about five minutes left. I think what I'm going to do is open it up to you all, if you have any final thoughts that you want to leave us with that we didn't touch on yet today.

>> Male Speaker: I'll start. The most important thing I think for future of water in the country, as opposed to individual systems, is for the United States and each of the states remember, each of the states owns the water in its own state to decide whether that water is being managed and determine objectives in ways people can evaluate whether or not particular alternatives for managing that water are meeting those objectives. They don't have to tell us exactly how to trade off everything. Stakeholders in individual communities can get together and figure out how they want to trade off those things. But we need a set of management objectives that we can evaluate, that we can trade off one against the other. We don't need big dictates that this will be managed for hydropower recreation and water supply. Doesn't work. There are environmental concerns that have been added later. How do we measure those? How do we measure hydropower? How do we measure recreation? How do we measure water supply reliability? Water supply quality? What are we trying to manage for. If we can figure that out, there's plenty of talent in this industry to make sure that it actually happens.

>> Patricia Mulroy: I think there's also a fundamental paradigm shift, to add on to what Dan was saying, that has to occur and is beginning to occur as a result of the discussions around climate change. I mean, it used to be that we as the water utility would just take care of everybody's problems. It's a two way street. The United States at a very individual, residential, homeowner, apartment dweller level needs to become better aware and take responsibility for their part of the water picture. We are the most voracious users of natural resources anywhere in the world. And you can't help but feel we've treated our water systems as our throw away utilities, they are the ones we don't think about. It's not the largest bill that comes into the house, it's not the one that we are concerned about because for the most part, we have been incredibly fortunate. We haven't lived in a country where a child dies every second from a water borne disease. But we have to stop neglecting it. I think the challenges that water quality as a result of climate change or as a result of better science is going to bring us or our actual water supply are going to become overwhelming. And we have to begin that conversation with our public because they are a part of the solution. We can't fix it for them anymore.

>> Male Speaker: It's easy for me to say because I'm in the research business, but we need more research. We need answers to lots and lots of problems at the individual homeowner level up through entire regions, basins, the Missouri River. We have the opportunity to do that. We need more data, more research, better tools. Because if we don't, we're going to be short of water that is drinkable, that is available to grow crops and it's a fundamental thing. It's not like we're a little short of electricity.

>> Jennifer Bogo: I'm a little curious as well since we happen to have three people on the panel who actually are researchers at universities and then someone from an independent company and then someone from the water authority. These are three very different powerful roles in our water future. How should we be working together in order to get to where we need to be? Do they happen on parallel tracks or is it something that more conversation needs to be taking place?

>> Male Speaker: I think we do work together. I know these people. I think they know us. I work with water companies all the time. And I think other people do too. Dan does.

>> Male Speaker: I agree with Mark Houck, research, of course, coming from an university. I also might add that in the course of working together, I'm reminded by the name of our program, Water in 2025, that the American Society of Civil Engineers says that we will have an one trillion dollar short fall in our infrastructure and infrastructure repairs by that same year, 2025. So in addition to greater research which helps us to understand how to do it, more wisely and how to do it smarter, we do need the agreements of Congress and the people of the United States that our infrastructure has fallen sorely behind and is in very bad need of repair.

>> Female Speaker: Dr. Edwards, did you have any final thoughts?

>> Marc Edwards: By and large, this is a great profession. Every now and then we have some disagreements about how resources have been allocated, but in general I have found all groups come to the table, sit down and resolve these problems, and even for areas that I've advocated that I've thought we overlooked, we respond in remarkably fast fashion to address those issues. I think we'll continue to do so in the future.

>> Female Speaker: I would like to thank our panelists for joining us and thank everyone who tuned in online and our live audience. It's been a really interesting conversation and of course once that's going to continue far into the future. Thank you, everyone.

>> Patricia Mulroy: Thank you.

(Applause)

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