Choosing Our Water Future - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Choosing Our Water Future

Robert Glennon proves that humanity has an infinite capacity to deny reality with this photograph of an artifical snow hill being built on an 85 degree day during a drought in Georgia.

Humanity has an infinite capacity to deny reality. That was a central message of Robert Glennon’s keynote address at MPC and Openlands’ May 12 forum, “Choosing Our Water Future.” As the nation’s population grows, and as that population redistributes itself throughout the country (with a general trend of movement away from water-rich regions to more arid areas), we are faced with the reality that only so much water exists, but our demand is unquenchable.

Water isn’t simply what falls from the sky, or what comes out of the tap. Water is the result of a complex set of value-adding processes including pumping, treatment, distribution, consumption, removal to a wastewater facility, treatment and release back into the environment. These utility services, energy expenditures, and infrastructure investments certainly don’t fall from the sky, regardless of whether or not the water itself actually does. As infrastructure ages, and as labor and energy costs grown, it only stands to reason that the cost of providing water would increase too.

If we ignore the value of water, how can we hope to manage our varied water resources? The answer from each of our seven speakers at “Choosing Our Water Future” was pretty simple — we can’t.

Laurent Auguste, President and CEO, Veolia Water Americas and Board Member, Milwaukee 7 Water Council, spoke about the value of water. In addition to citing case studies of cities that hadn’t raised water rates in decades, Mr. Auguste explored the issue of price versus value. Bottled water costs 1,000 times as much as tap water, but people buy it and then grumble when utility rates increase. Price isn’t the issue. If people don’t value the system that provides them with water, then important decisions to modernize, rehabilitate or fundamentally rethink those systems (perhaps with green infrastructure or conversation programs) will always be hamstrung.

If people deny the reality of our water system’s value, what’s to be done? That’s the challenge faced by the forum’s final two speakers, Tim Loftus, principal, water resources, of Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and Richard Sustich, a Lake Zurich, Ill. Village trustee and board member of Clean Water America Alliance. For Mr. Loftus, working to implement the recently approved regional water supply plan requires political will from state, county and local officials. For Mr. Sustich, the political will comes from within his community as they examine whether to expand sewage treatment facilities or somehow reduce the town’s water consumption. But again, where does political will come from if the systems that require investment are underdeveloped? Instead, we defer investment, or borrow money, or develop cockamamie schemes like towing icebergs to Northern California or pumping water across the Rockies to arid Texas — both real proposals.

National policy and leadership might help move toward a more realistic societal understanding of water. There are signs that the federal government is looking to change its role in sustainable water resources management by investing in existing systems. Ultimately, this awareness needs to be generated locally.

Humanity also has an incredible capacity to protect what it values, sustainable water resources management, really comes down to a very simple proposition — if we value it, we will protect it.

Stay tuned for future events in the “Choosing Our Water Future” covering the role of water in business attraction and economic development, the connection between water, energy, and climate change, effect of water withdrawals on aquatic ecosystems, and much more. Our next event, Infrastructure for Change, will explore the role of the architecture, design, engineering communities in stewardship of the Great Lakes. I hope you can make it.


  1. 1. Mike from yxIBBTbemQaOOh on October 4, 2012

    3% of the people who join an MLM conpmay make money. 97% fail. I am not saying this to be negative. I am a distributor for a health and wellness product myself. Knowing this helps me to understand that it is real business. If you stuck around at the meetings and go often you would see that the faces change frequently. This is because so many are leading with the opportunity. When people find out that it does not work out as claimed they drop out. I would suggest that you find one that you can enjoy. I would also suggest that you treat it as a real business and not a get rich scheme. BEST WISHES!P.S.Don't let the statistics haunt you. If you go in understanding what it takes to succeed you will be in the 3%. Some MLM companies train to attract the naive . That is what causes the high rate of failure.

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