Jerald L. Schnoor, Ph.D., Allen S. Henry Chair of Engineering and Co-Director of the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, presented the National Water Research Institute (NWRI) Clarke Prize Lecture on July 15, 2010, in Orange County, California.
The Clarke Prize was established by NWRI in 1993 to recognize outstanding research scientists in water and wastewater. Mrs. Joan Irvine Smith, daughter of the late Athalie Richardson Irvine Clarke, presented Schnoor with a medallion and $50,000 award.
Dr. Schnoor’s lecture, entitled Water Sustainability in a Changing World, focuses on the challenges facing our ability to provide a sustainable supply of clean drinking water for future generations. Excerpts of his presentation are below.
Water, like all things on planet Earth, is changing. For the most part, these changes are driven by human activities, not nature. The following four drivers have caused precipitous changes in water quantity, availability, and quality:
- Population growth
- Climate change
- Land use change and energy choices
- Global poverty
Our environment has been dramatically altered during the past few decades. Effects are visited at the local, regional, and global scales. At the local scale, the four drivers cause profound problems for human families in gaining access to quality water. Unless we can overcome or adapt to these driving forces, future generations will inherit a legacy of declining and degraded water resources. Our relationship with water and how we use water must evolve to meet this challenge.
What Can We Do?
First, we must recognize the cause of the problem and seek to mitigate the drivers, where possible. Second, we must seek to adapt to a changing water environment. In the engineering community, we can help communities make better choices about water resources, and we can design water infrastructure that meets the needs of people in a changing water environment. In the scientific community, we must elevate our science to enable better monitoring, modeling, and forecasting of our water future, so stakeholders and decision makers have better information upon which to act.
One of the clear messages of this lecture is that we should consider our water resources more holistically and the water cycle in its entirety rather than parts of a fragmented tapestry. Another theme is that we can always do better, and continuous improvement of our water sustainability is within our reach. Changes in our water environment due to population growth and migration, climate change, land use and energy choices, and poverty make water sustainability a moving target. Changes in these drivers can be planned for a priori if we improve our ability to monitor, model, and forecast water resources.
Although I am an engineer, I do not consider myself a technological optimist. I do not believe that technology alone will solve the problems of water, climate change, or energy resources discussed in this lecture. To be sure, technology can and will play a role through smart water infrastructure, renewable energy sources, and energy efficiency. But to accomplish the goals associated with this lecture, we must begin to view the billions of people in future generations as our family and take responsibility for their livelihoods. Our profession, our government, and our multinational organizations need to evolve much faster than the changing environment witnessed today.
It will require a bold, new form of leadership that we have not seen on the planet to date. Our population is growing too large, but our tribe is too small. We could better accommodate the numbers if we had a different world view. Our own livelihood depends on each other, and our common future demands a visionary viewpoint. This argument is not legal or technological; it is one of morals and ethics and spirit.