tween the United States and Mexico has to do with quantitative water transfer versus water quality and salination issues.
Dr. Hecht responded that both issues are important, however, the water quantity problem is more serious politically because it has its basis in treaty. Under the 1944 Boundary Water Treating Act, water is exchanged between the United States and Mexico. He said that in the last number of years, Mexico has fallen behind its transfers of water to the United States because of a long-term drought. Before the Iraq war, this issue had reached very high political levels and was discussed many times by Presidents Fox and Bush.
Dr. Hecht said that this point of contention continues to be a significant issue, given that there are farmers in Texas managing an approximate $3 billion agricultural industry that remains relatively dependent on Mexican water. Even the National Security Council became involved in U.S.-Mexico water issues and helped facilitate agreement on a transfer of Mexican water to Texas. The problem continues because Mexico still suffers from drought conditions and poor water management. Dr. Hecht said that regardless of the details, the amount of water that has been transferred between these two countries has not met the treaty obligation. This has kept water, along with immigration and other issues, festering and will potentially become a more serious problem in the future.
Fareed Salem, with ConocoPhillip, said that he has been involved in the water business for a long time and has not earned much money from it. He has observed, however, that technology innovation is a key factor to water and profitability.
Mr. Salem also said that the role of government in sustainability efforts should be facilitation rather than leadership. He thought that a business approach should be taken where communities set up water sustainability business councils. He felt that sustainability efforts should be community driven because the priorities for each community are different.
Dr. Hecht responded by saying that the role of government is very important because someone has to pay for clean water. Water treatment, storage, and transfer must be fairly priced. He brought up the fact that the current pricing of clean water does not reflect these costs and addressing this is essential for solving the looming water problems. Dr. Hecht also expressed concerns that were raised at the talks in Kyoto that the poor will not be well served if governments do not play a role in providing clean water sources. Dr. Hecht agreed that the private sector should play a big role in sustainability efforts together with communities, but major hurdles exist to provide fairly priced water sources that are also profitable.
Jan Dell, of CH2M Hill, posed questions dealing with how the effects of poor sanitation or water issues in one region can have global impacts. She wanted to know about water issues that might be analogous to those posed by the movement of air pollution from one region to another. Ms. Dell also commented on her experience working for multinationals and their water supply chains. She asked about the potential link between sanitary treatment in southern China and the outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome).
In response, Dr. Hecht talked about industry’s role in addressing global pollution issues. He mentioned a group at the Commerce Department called the Environmental Technologies Trade Advisory Committee that is working with industries developing facilities overseas to get them to think more broadly about their capability as a service to the communities. Dr. Hecht said that great potential exists for these plants—whether they manufacture soda pop, pharmaceuticals, or computer chips—as they process water for their own needs and expand operations to provide water supplies for the local community.
On the issues of treatment, sanitation in China, and the SARS outbreak, Dr. Hecht was not aware of a link. He did highlight the CDC’s efforts on international environmental health and sanitation issues and the success of the safe drinking verification programs around the world (www.cdc.gov/safewater). He also pointed out that, surprisingly, China was not part of the bilateral negotiations at the World Water Forum in Kyoto and that most of the focus there was on Africa and Central America.
Don Phipps, of the Orange County Water District, felt that there are inconsistencies in discussing sustainable water supplies when the consuming organism is not a sustainable resource—that is, its population is not constant.
Mr. Phipps mentioned how for years technology has enabled water supplies to be provided in areas with growing populations, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to continue doing this. He expressed concern that if the world population does not stabilize, it will be impossible to meet water supply needs.
Dr. Hecht agreed that improved use of resources is critical. He went on to say that population impacts water supplies most significantly in areas that are urbanizing rapidly. Currently, he said, Africa is the continent that has the highest rate of urbanization and is the least equipped to deal with it. Finally, Dr. Hecht and Mr. Phipps agreed that addressing the issue of population in some form is a part of the holistic approach necessary to solve the world’s water supply needs.