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Global Environmental Health: Research Gaps and Barriers for Providing Sustainable Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Services - Workshop Summary 9 Thinking About New Visions of Water Services Jeanne Bailey, Public Affairs Officer, Fairfax Water My remarks are neither as the public affairs officer for Fairfax Water nor as the chair of the Water and Health Work Group for the American Water Works Association, but as someone who has spent 20+ years in the drinking water business. From a 60,000 foot perspective, a number of issues, including climate change and the current regulatory paradigm, have dominated and continue to dominate the national thinking. CLIMATE CHANGE Turn on a radio or a television set and the weather announcements concerning weather and water have a recurring theme: there is no rain, there has been no rain, and we have no idea when rain will occur. The National Climate Data Center is reporting that 43 percent of the contiguous United States is in a drought. Atlanta, Georgia, has declared that it has less than 90 days of drinking water supply left as of October 2007 and the Washington Metropolitan Region is at a record of 34 days without measurable rain as of October 2007. The weather patterns are changing; longer, dryer periods are followed by intense wetter periods. The result is that there will be challenges locally, nationally, and globally to take advantage of the precipitation in shorter periods of time. People need to think regionally about the best solutions, including aquifer storage and recovery, building additional reservoirs, or using seawater. One of these ideas may not be the right solution, but the time to have these discussions is now, in order to anticipate the crisis and not react when the utilities cannot provide water. From a local utilities perspective, the current drought is a temporary issue. When it rains customers will have forgotten their concerns and will consider reseeding their lawns, possibly installing a hot tub or a pool. Most importantly, there will not be the support to increase water rates to support future water source development. However, a local utility has a responsibility to plan for water
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Global Environmental Health: Research Gaps and Barriers for Providing Sustainable Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Services - Workshop Summary resources well beyond their current careers, to take care of their grandchildren’s grandchildren. As entities concerned with global sustainability, local utilities need to be concerned about how to improve government thinking at the highest levels. There needs to be integration in how the utilities’ plans will affect the changes in how local, regional, and national governments will address these issues. Until society is able to look beyond the methods and begin to strategize about the larger impact, there will be little effect on true global sustainability. REGULATORY PERSPECTIVE Fairfax Water provides water services for approximately 1.5 million people and is a critical point in the public health system through the delivery of safe, reliable, affordable drinking water for one of out every five Virginians. This water is used for baby formula and bathing, as well as sanitation and hygiene for the region. The utilities play an important role in public health, yet there is a vast chasm between the public health, medical, and water resource treatment and delivery systems. When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was formed in 1970, it provided an essential and vital role in the protection of the environment, the air, wastewater, and many other vital resources. In 1974, Congress passed its first approach to protecting drinking water in the form of the Safe Drinking Water Act. Until this point, there had been a close marriage between water and public health in the form of the U.S. Public Health Service, but after this time, there was a shift. The shifting paradigm begs the question if the current regulatory framework is working. This workshop has been about global sustainability—looking for the best solutions of today’s water and sanitation problems. Many people in the field (academia, government, nongovernmental organizations, and industry) spend their time and resources looking for the most affordable ways to implement incremental risk reduction to what are, by global comparison, pristine water and wastewater systems. The question remains if enough has been done to protect public health and the waters of the United States and can we move on to a global standard. There may be room for refinement. This is not a condemnation of the Environmental Protection Agency or the current regulatory framework. But perhaps a change is needed in how one looks at who regulates what. The services of environmental health officers and the Commissioned Corps ensure public health and safety in a variety of domestic and international roles, such as epidemiological surveillance, disease prevention, industrial hygiene, education, and emergency preparedness. During natural disasters and other emergencies, environmental health officers protect the public from environmental threats and help communities recover. However, is this the best use of the limited resources available to be able to solve the larger problems of global sustainability? It is not only money that is limited, but also people and water. J.B. Manion, the former executive director of the American Waterworks Association,
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Global Environmental Health: Research Gaps and Barriers for Providing Sustainable Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Services - Workshop Summary once said, “We are all of us water beings on a water planet. Water is life. Without it, all living things die. Our dependence on water is absolute. Our psyches know this and signal us in myriad ways of water’s elemental importance and significance. That is why we love the water and remember experiences associated with it. Of the earth’s vast resources, only a small fraction is fresh and drinkable. A small subset of individuals among the approximately 6 billion on this earth have been charged with the task of ensuring that everyone has a reliable source of safe water. Supplying potable water is an essential activity, a great responsibility, and a vocation of distinction.” As we conclude the workshop, my challenge to you is to go back to your offices and programs with the ideas that you have worked on for the past two days and plan strategically, whatever your task, whatever your research agenda, and ask a series of questions: Have you included all the players? Are you reaching high enough? Are you truly looking for the global solution? Each of us has the opportunity, the responsibility, to look at the larger platform. Each of us holds the solution to the future in our current actions. Each of us shares in this vocation of distinction.
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