She noted that these technologies need to be able to be used and maintained once the nongovernmental organizations, the companies, the researchers, or the governments leave. It is not a sustainable system if the technology is manufactured in some country a continent away, and the local users have no ability to obtain replacement parts. Jennie Ward Robinson of the Institute of Public Health and Water Research asserted that the water services have to be community owned and community based. The technology can be reliable, delivering water to a high standard, but if the people do not want it or cannot maintain it, and then it is not a viable sustainable solution. Any technology has to have longevity after the outside organizations or researchers leave. This means that local capabilities, capacity, and resources, including mechanisms for repairs and maintenance, must be in place. In the process of implementation, people in the water field need to think about the cultural, behavioral, and social factors that influence water usage—why people use water and what does its use mean in everyday life in that community. She further observed that, although it is appropriate for a solution to consider economic and social and health implications, the underpinning is to promote local ownership.

Cheryl Davis of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s Workforce Development Initiative expanded on the technology discussion by suggesting that sustainability analysis use a triple-bottom-line analytical framework. First, people using any technology need to be able to operate and maintain the system over the long term. At the same time, it needs to be economically viable. The second aspect of the triple bottom line is the environmental bottom line. For example, water utilities use energy, chemicals for treatment, and manage land. Water operations come at a cost to the environment. The third aspect of the triple bottom line is social. Social impacts include the water quality, communication with stakeholders, and the cultural and religious values associated with water. Cecilia Tortajada of the International Water Resources Association countered that sustainability has not been precisely defined, even though the concept was developed over 20 years ago. She asserted that individuals often imply a balance between economic, social, and environmental issues, although as yet the programs do not. There are trade-offs; for example, in Mexico with about 19–20 million people, large agricultural areas are irrigated with wastewater. These practices are not sustainable in either the developing or the developed world, yet the water is still provided in this way.

Hunter summed up this definition by drawing from the various presented viewpoints to suggest that the sustainability of water services is planning for the long term—how people provide clean water today should not interfere with the ability to provide clean water in 5, 20, or 100 years. He acknowledged that, most of the time, sustainability has been used in the environmental context—sustainability of the environment—but it is more than environmental sustainability. Water can be a commodity and a human right, two ideas that are not often captured in definitions of sustainability.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement