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Pollution & HealthExploring Actionable Solutions for Water Security

Exploring Actionable Solutions for Water Security

Exploring Actionable Solutions for Water Security

Emily Halnon
|September 7, 2022

Many challenges triggered by the climate crisis hinge on the identical element: water. Climate change is exacerbating water issues through increased pollution, floods, storms, and droughts, while aging infrastructure across the country is making it harder for communities to cope with these issues.

On September 20, leading stakeholders from federal agencies, academia, private industry, nongovernmental organizations and philanthropies will convene at Columbia University to debate the longer term of water in the US. The event, Ensuring America’s Water Security: Designing, Financing and Managing Infrastructure for Climate Adaptation, will foster discussions about water, climate, and infrastructure issues and explore action-oriented, achievable solutions to handle these issues. Register here.

The Columbia Water Center hosted an identical conference in 2019, which checked out the necessity for federal investments in water infrastructure. Since then, the federal government has designated $50 billion for upgrades to America’s water infrastructure through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, but this investment is just a small step toward addressing the larger issue, based on the event organizers.

The upcoming conference will explore novel strategies for the design of water and wastewater infrastructure that address the technical and affordability challenges, where the investments could come from, and discover opportunities for collective motion that may higher address the increasing threats of climate change and supply protected water for societal needs.

We checked in with Upmanu Lall, director of the Columbia Water Center and the Alan & Carol Silberstein Professor of Engineering, to learn more about the event and what it’s going to entail. Lall’s work sits on the intersection of hydrology, climate dynamics, and water resource systems. On this conversation, he shares why this event is so vital and offers some insights into what he hopes it’s going to cover and achieve.

Why is that this event so vital?

upmanu lall headshot

Upmanu Lall is the director of the Columbia Water Center. He recently received the Walter Langbein Lecture award from the American Geophysical Union for his work in hydrology.

For those who have a look at any of the foremost climate disasters, when it comes to financial losses, or lack of life, they’re all related to water, including floods, droughts, or storms. Water can be essential for manufacturing, agriculture, human health, and the environment.

But, a lot of the water infrastructure in the US is 50 to 80 years old and decaying. Many communities are coping with environmental hazards from the aging and failing infrastructure and native communities don’t have the funds to redo this infrastructure and even maintain it. While federal investments in energy and transportation have gone up, the water investment is largely stuck at levels seen in 1980.  So, we’re on this perfect storm situation where the climate conditions have gotten more extreme and our infrastructure will not be in the form that it must be in since the US hasn’t invested in it because the time of Ronald Reagan.

Surprisingly, nobody has been put money into higher infrastructure that might address the problems well into the longer term. So, that’s turn into our focus. There are groups which can be talking about specific problems with water, like lead, however the conversations are mostly a few singular issue that should be solved. We wish to take into consideration what we want to do on a grander, more holistic scale in order that we are able to solve multiple problems with the identical money, because we don’t have the cash to resolve these problems on a piecemeal basis.

What do you hope this event accomplishes?

We try to bring together experts and leaders from across tech corporations, the Biden administration, consultants and implementers, community groups, ecological research and academia, and the financial industry to develop a comprehensive blueprint for water architecture and water services on this country.

The discussion will start with the present state of U.S. infrastructure, the longer term of water in America, and climate change and resiliency within the context of the implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill. Key players from industry, government, philanthropy, and the private sector will have the opportunity to share their expertise and perspectives to speak through possible goals and solutions.

We’ll review practical ideas for synergistic financing of enormous infrastructure projects resembling dams, in addition to point-of-use or neighborhood-scale solutions. On the technology front, we are going to seek to discover solutions resembling low price monitoring of water quantity and quality to make sure water system performance.

The West faces perhaps the worst drought in a millennia. In lots of places, groundwater is being depleted. Agriculture and concrete areas are major cuts in water availability as the big reservoirs within the West dry up. How you can anticipate and address these challenges is an open query, and we are going to explore among the ideas which can be emerging from data scientists who try to dramatically increase the information available and predict what the supply shall be, in order that management and financial risk mitigation strategies might be improved.

We wish to integrate all of those perspectives to alter the dynamic, in order that the following opportunity to speculate federal, state and personal money is strategically going towards developing something recent and future-looking.

What would it not appear to be for the US to be more future-oriented with water infrastructure?

One example could be if we’re doing climate forecasts, and we anticipate that there’s going to be extreme rainfall and flooding in some areas, we’d already taking defensive measures slightly than waiting for people to be worn out after which spending money on fixing them up.

An example of that the latter is last October, after we had an enormous rainstorm in Recent York, and there was widespread basement flooding and 13 people died. It seems that quite a lot of people’s basements got flooded since the sewers were blocked. So, some inquiries to ask are: Did any person check whether the sewers were okay? How often is it checked? Who’s liable for this? And, it seems that Recent York City used to have a policy that they’d inspect sewers every six months, but, Mayor DeBlasio decided this was a waste of cash and made it every two years.

But, in China, they’ve installed sensors in all town sewers, in order that during a rainstorm they know where the water level is rising, how much it’s raining, where it’s raining, and if needed, they will immediately start telling those who they should evacuate a certain area because they will see where they’re more likely to overflow.

Why don’t we’ve it something like that in the US? Because we aren’t excited about designing the infrastructure in a contemporary context. We aren’t excited about the climate problem and the aging infrastructure problem together.

We understand there shall be a white paper published after the event. Are you able to share more about that?

Now we have a preliminary version of a background paper that identifies the challenges being faced. The plan is to work with the panelists to co-author a thoughtful extension to this that lays out a method for solutions to those challenges. We hope to have the opportunity to release this by the tip of this yr, and to make use of it as a basis for discussions with the federal agencies, other universities, community groups, the private sector and philanthropy, to proceed to construct a strategic initiative.

The Columbia Water Center’s existing work with other universities to handle aging dams and water infrastructure challenges for disadvantaged communities is providing wealthy analytical tools that can help discover where the needs are, and what are the suitable solutions on the community and bigger scales. Along with our partners, we plan to make these tools publicly available to support the initiative.


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