20 March 2009

Events around World Water Day 2009

This upcoming Sunday, 22 March, is World Water Day as designated sixteen years ago by the UN General Assembly. The Day's theme for this year is "Water Connects," bringing global attention to the more than 260 transboundary river basins that connect nearly 150 countries in water-sharing relationships and cover more than half the Earth's surface. Lots of things going on this week prior, and likely lots of things to happen that day too. One place to check for events in or near your own hometown is Ethos Water. Yes, that's the bottled water you find most often at Starbucks locations, of whose product I drink enough that they're practically a sponsor of this blog. If only I could get them to put some cash on my Starbucks Gold Card (props to the muse) every month... Did I write "Starbucks" enough times in this paragraph to get a mocha or two? Can a caffeine-fueled blogger catch a break here? Feeling...so...sleepy...

Seriously, these couple weeks before World Water Day saw a lot of attention to water issues, from local and state-based meetings to U.S. and global fora. In conjunction with President Obama's stimulus packages, on 12 March the U.S. House of Representatives passed and sent on to the Senate the "Water Quality Investment Act of 2009" (H.R. 1262) which would provide almost $19.4B for wastewater infrastructure over the next five years, including almost $14B for distribution through the Clean Water State Revolving Funds. Without such funding, wastewater management and the water quality in our nation's waterways might have been set back almost 40 years, to a time before the original Clean Water Act brought about an era of much-needed environmental and ecological remediation.

Here in subtropical semi-arid Tucson, Arizona, we were treated to the Arizona Water Resources Research Center's Annual Conference, co-sponsored by the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution at the Morris K. Udall Foundation and by my own employer, the Arizona Water Institute. To answer your obvious question, yes, there is water in Arizona, just not much of it, which is why we need organizational efforts and get-togethers like this on a consistent and regular basis. That is, unfortunately, something the Arizona state legislature and the state university system little recognizes, but that's a story for another time. The conference on Tuesday was followed immediately by a St. Patrick's Day celebration at the local brewpub with numerous conference participants in attendance. The WRRC Conference this year focused on "Best Practices for Stakeholder Engagement in Water Resources Planning" and had more than 40 communities from throughout Arizona represented among the conference participants. As I now work in direct interaction and service with so many passionate and dedicated stakeholders, where I attempt to secure and then later provide datasets and information to the public and interested groups, numerous aspects of the Conference were highly insightful and educational in that regard. The WRRC Conference was considered a success all around.

The U.S. National Weather Service declared this Flood Safety Awareness Week and has provided daily profiles of NWS activities and products related to flood causes, hazards, observation, warning, safety, and recovery. The all-important National Flood Insurance Program has been a focus of NWS promotion all week. Back in graduate school at Colorado State, I presented a brief examination of the NFIP in a course on Water Resources Management - maybe I can resurrect that material from my archives for another post here in the near future.

The non-profit organization International Rivers kicked off this past week in a big way with an "International Day of Action against Dams and for Rivers, Water and Life," so it was no surprise when they stirred things up at the triennial 5th World Water Forum, hosted this past week by the World Water Council in Istanbul, Turkey. I was pleased to see that the UN's own "water czar" Maude Barlow was expected to participate in protests at the Forum, which is itself sponsored by the United Nations and several of its component organizations and was supported this year by the International Hydropower Association. It's no small irony that Turkey itself remains embroiled in controversy over it's dam(n) project at Ilisu in Southeast Anatolia, which I've mentioned previously in a post on the Kurdish ethnic region and hope to cover again given more recent developments there.

I also certainly enjoyed following the adventures of the small International Rivers contingent that was removed from the event (and then deported from the country) for "protest activities" that seemed to consist almost exclusively of a colorful banner and aborted chant against the funding, construction and use of large dams around the world. International Rivers' Policy Director Peter Bosshard provided a level overview of the events, both inside and outside the Forum, and two of the deported participants (Ann Kathrin Schneider and Payal Parekh) have already provided their own entertaining accounts of the incident. At the same time, an "Alternative Water Forum" was also convened in Istanbul in direct competition with the official meeting and with the slogan "Another Water Management is Possible!" Gotta admire their tenacity...

So, at the official Forum, the controversial $33B Libyan "Great Man-Made River Project" to bring water from fossil aquifers in the Saharan interior to the more populous coastal regions was finally presented in an international meeting, and then there were the usual calls for international cooperation on water issues, and the Forum was the setting for official release of the 3rd UN World Water Development Report titled Water in a Changing World. Otherwise, as expected, very little came of the Forum itself; a meeting of high-level international officials does not often seem the place to get real work done - have you ever seen a positive and substantive outcome from the World Economic Forum in Davos each year, or from a G-8 or G-20 meeting for that matter?

In more academic circles, the impressive Global Water Futures program (which follows on their 2005 report Addressing Our Global Water Future) within the Global Strategy Institute at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C. sponsored several events: on Tuesday they hosted a panel discussion on "Renewing American Leadership On the Global Water Crisis" led by Representative Earl Blumenauer, who has previously spoken at the Wilson Center on bringing progressive water policy home while continuing our global outreach in the water sector, and Senator Richard Durbin and including statements on the pending "Paul Simon Water for the World Act" (S. 624), formerly the "Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act 2005" that is administered by the U.S. State Department. That was followed on Wednesday with a "Declaration on U.S. Policy and the Global Challenge of Water" led by Coca-Cola Company Chairman E. Neville Isdell and former Senate Majority Leader William Frist. Coca-Cola is one of those international companies so forward-thinking as to have supported from their inceptions the Global Water Challenge and the CEO Water Mandate, a UN Global Compact activity. Although they consistently come under fire for water management practices in India, they've been working consistently with the WWF on conservation partnerships around the world and some time ago struck a deal for water sustainability in their manufacturing activities in China and have entered into a unique partnership with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to help address water needs in developing countries at the level of individual communities.

Obviously not a group to underestimate the value of momentum, CSIS is sponsoring even more events in the coming weeks: with co-host the Global Health Council, three NGO partners will present a briefing following up on the "Renewing American Leadership" discussion and regarding their activities to "Let Clean Waters Flow: U.S. Leadership and Innovation Addressing the Global Water Crisis" in Washington on 25 March. On 30 March CSIS will collaborate with the "Year of Water" program and lecture series led by the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, which dedicated their entire 2008 volume of SAISPHERE magazine to water issues, on a conference to address "Water and Agriculture: Implications for Development and Growth." We've seen a lot of interest and work in Arizona around the "water - energy nexus" but little extension along natural lines into the agriculture sector, on which I have a few ideas of my own.

And finally, during the World Water Forum in Istanbul, the Blue Legacy group debuted "Expedition: Blue Planet," a water-oriented travelogue series being led by Alexandra Cousteau (daughter of the famed oceanographer) through eight critical regions across five continents, telling the stories of the people and the problems in these fragile environments. They've chronicled aspects of the sacred Ganges River in India, just left Botswana's oasis-like Okavango Delta, and are currently setting up in the Dead Sea basin along the Jordan River. Oh, and by the way, the Blue Legacy project is sponsored by Dasani, a product of the Coca-Cola Company. Still, it should be fun to watch...

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