The world will celebrate World Water Day on Saturday. For most of us, the day will come and go as other days, like National Talk Like a Pirate Day or National Cookie Day. But this year marks the first time this well-intentioned day of action gets serious -- with the launch of the annual United Nations World Water Development Report.
There are a billion people around the world who lack access to potable water, but the issue has never gained much traction on Main Street, Wall Street or the Capitol -- largely because the crisis is happening over there, rather than over here. But in the first few months of 2014, water has become a front-page story in America.
In California, the megadrought is threatening the agriculture industry that props up a state that would be the ninth largest economy in the world if counted separate from the nation. Popular wine country destinations like Sonoma County's Healdsburg are prepping for the possibility of exhausting their entire water supply this summer.
At the same time, the advance of fracking and its potential impact on water supplies is raising the level of public dialogue about water safety. Natural gas drilling across the United States has altered the nation's energy landscape, sharply reducing America's reliance on foreign oil and all the political headaches that come with it. The fast growth has raised two critical concerns: how to manage water usage and how to protect water from pollutants.
How can World Water Day 2014 be any different?
We should all use facts when talking about water issues and safety. There is a lot of misinformation clouding the issue. From myths about fluoride in drinking water to the junk science used on both sides of the debate on fracking, there is a lack of consensus on the most basic issues and statistics. Alarmism and finger pointing have done nothing but create confusion and inertia among our political and business leaders. It's time to get the facts straight.
We need to conserve water wherever possible. Turning off the tap, keeping showers short and watering the lawn on a timer -- these are still good steps for regular Americans but they aren't a solution. More than 30 percent of America's water goes to outdoor use. The average lawn could hold almost 10,000 gallons of water if it has just five percent organic matter in it. Multiply those lawns by an average town's population and 10,000 gallons become 100 million gallons of water saved through the process. These types of small, indirect changes to the products we use can have a far bigger impact in reaching our goals than water preservation alone.
- We need to support desalination technology to create more water resources. Ninety-seven percent of Earth's water is saline, but most of the focus is on freshwater only. Great strides are being made in this area, like the California solar desalination plant that is producing water at a quarter of the cost of the old price. Around the world, there are as many as 3,800 offline or decommissioned desalination plants today. We must learn to use the water we have, but perhaps more importantly, reuse it. Of the one billion gallons of water treated every day in local municipalities, less than three percent is reused. Meanwhile, China has established processes to reuse as much as 93 percent of water in some cities.
Water is the world's most precious natural resource. It deserves its day.
David LaVance is the Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of Integrated Environmental Technologies, a life sciences company focused on providing eco-friendly solutions for healthcare, energy and food production.