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Pacific Institute Insights is the staff blog of the Pacific Institute, one of the world’s leading nonprofit research groups on sustainable and equitable management of natural resources. For more about what we do, click here.

  • National Geographic ScienceBlogs: National Water Infrastructure Efforts Must Expand Access to Public Drinking Fountains

    by Peter Gleick and Rapichan Phurisamban 

    March 8, 2017

     

    Modern drinking fountains chill and filter water, and let users fill water bottles (Photo: Peter Gleick 2011)

    Modern drinking fountains chill and filter water, and let users fill water bottles (Photo: Peter Gleick 2011)

    There is strong bipartisan support for expanding investment in the nation’s water infrastructure as part of a broader infrastructure effort. But there is, as yet, little agreement about what specific investments should be made. Here is one idea: expand access to high-quality and safe municipal water by improving access to drinking fountains in schools, parks, public buildings, and around public transit areas.

    Drinking fountains are an important public resource, serving as an alternative to bottled water or sugary drinks and accommodating a wide array of users, including children, commuters, runners, the homeless, and tourists. Some fountains are even designed to provide water for pets. A newly released study from the Pacific Institute, entitled “Drinking Fountains and Public Health: Improving National Water Infrastructure to Rebuild Trust and Ensure Access,” discusses the state of the nation’s drinking fountains and addresses concerns about their quality and links to illnesses. The report concludes that the risk of fountain water contamination can be reduced or eliminated altogether through improved maintenance and cleaning or updating and replacing old water infrastructure and pipes.

    The significance of drinking fountains has been documented since ancient times. Some of the earliest records of public water fountains come from ancient Greek cities, where fountains were both a common sight and a public necessity. A second century Greek writer, Pausanias, wrote that a place can never rightfully be called a “city” without water fountains. Spring-fed public water fountains were typically placed in or near temples and were dedicated to gods, goddesses, nymphs, and heroes.

     

    Florence, Italy

    Drinking Fountain, Florence, Italy (Photo: Peter Gleick)

    As populations grew and cities expanded, demand for public water systems and new water treatment and delivery technologies led to the increased use of public water fountains. By the early 20th century, public drinking fountains became a fixture of the urban landscape. In the past few decades, however, they have been disappearing from public spaces for several reasons, including the advent of commercial bottled water, decreased public investment in urban infrastructure, concern over the health risks of fountains and municipal water in general, and alaisse-faire attitude toward public water systems.

    It is time to reverse this trend.

    Drinking fountains are essential for maintaining free public access to water, and we need to expand the science and practice of ensuring they remain clean, safe, and accessible. A modest investment by public agencies, school and park districts, and even private businesses could greatly expand the number and quality of drinking water fountains. New fountain designs equipped with filters, chillers, and bottle fillers make fountains an even smarter choice for everyone. Mobile apps that make it easier to find a nearby drinking fountain are currently being tested and could improve access to drinking water, and thus public health.

    Drinking fountain, California (Photo: Peter Gleick)

    Drinking fountain, California (Photo: Peter Gleick)

    Key recommendations from the Pacific Institute report should be adopted quickly, by federal, state, and local agencies, and by others who build and maintain drinking fountains. These recommendations include consistent cleaning and routine maintenance; installation of new fountains in high-traffic areas; retrofitting or replacement of old models with modern fountains with optional filters, chillers, and bottle fillers; and the elimination of parts and pipes that contain lead and copper.

    Recent reports of unsafe water from fountains show that the problem is almost never the fountain itself, but old water distribution and plumbing systems that should, with a proper national water infrastructure effort, be upgraded and replaced immediately to remove lead and other sources of contamination. Uniform maintenance guidelines should be developed and widely adopted. These efforts, combined with communications on the results of regular water testing, reports on the performance of fountains, and information on how to find and access high-quality drinking fountains, can help build public trust in water fountains and protect the human right to water.

    This article was originaly published on http://scienceblogs.com

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  • 21st Century Water Demand Forecasting

    By Matthew Heberger, Senior Research Associate and Heather Cooley, Water Program Director

    August 31, 2016

    Yogi Berra once said, “It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.” And nowhere is this more true than in the water business. Forecasts are extremely important for water utilities, which must make plans today to meet their communities’ current and future water needs. Since water supply projects can take years to plan and build, utilities’ long-term view often reaches twenty years or more into the future. But the industry has a poor track record when it comes to long-range forecasting.

    The results of this are not purely academic. The end result is that water utilities may build unneeded or oversized water supply and treatment infrastructure – things like reservoirs, pumping stations, treatment plants, and desalination facilities – passing on the costs to customers and creating unnecessary environmental impacts. …»

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  • ERW Opinion: On Methods for Assessing Water-Resource Risks and Vulnerabilities

    By Peter Gleick, President Emeritus and Chief Scientist

    July 29, 2016

    Much more can and should be done with new data and methods to improve our understanding of water challenges, says Peter Gleick.

    As populations and economies continue to expand and as anthropogenic climate change accelerates, pressures on regional freshwater resources are also growing. A wide range of assessments of water pressures has been produced in recent years, including the regular updates from the United Nations World Water Development Reports (WWAP 2003, 2006, 2009, 2012, 2014, 2015), the biennial assessment The World’s Water (Gleick et al 1998–2015), the Aqueduct water stress datasets produced by the World Resources Institute (WRI 2015), and numerous other efforts to develop quantitative water measures and indices. The development of such methods has become increasingly common in recent years in order to help measure progress and evaluate the impacts or effectiveness of water policies and practices. The new letter in this volume of Environmental Research Letters by Padowski et al (2015) offers another opportunity to evaluate freshwater threats and vulnerabilities.

    …»

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  • global-drought-201602_GPCC_SPI03_edited-400x198

    National Geographic ScienceBlogs: Global Droughts: A Bad Year

    By Peter Gleick, President

    April 27, 2016

    Populations around the world face many severe water challenges, from scarcity to contamination, from political or violent conflict to economic disruption. As populations and economies grow, peak water pressures on existing renewable water resources also tend to grow up to the point that natural scarcity begins to constrain the options of water planners and managers. At this point, the effects of natural fluctuations in water availability in the form of extreme weather events become even more potentially disruptive than normal. In particular, droughts begin to bite deeply into human well-being.

    …»

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  • groundwater-slider-final

    Moving from Theory to Practice: A Synthesis of Lessons about Incentive-Based Instruments for Freshwater Management

    by Heather Cooley, Michael Cohen, and Matthew Heberger

    February 8, 2016

    There has been growing interest in applying incentive-based instruments, such as pollution charges and tradeable permits, to address the twin challenges of accessing enough freshwater to meet our needs while also preserving the well-being of freshwater ecosystems. These instruments use direct or indirect financial incentives as motivation to reallocate water or to reduce the health and environmental risks posed by an activity. But what do we know about how they have actually performed?

    …»

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  • Partners-Perspective5

    Sanition and Water for All Partner Perspectives: One Year On: Companies and Respect for the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation

    By Mai-Lan Ha

    January 29, 2016

    2015 was a historic year for sustainable development. The world came together and adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a new framework that will guide development for the next 15 years. The 17 SDGs cover a range of topics from health to education to equality and environmental protection. Underpinning the achievement of these goals is the importance of water. As such, water has its own dedicated goal (Goal 6) and is also integrated into a number of other related goals, such as those on health, wellbeing, and biodiversity. Critical to achievement of SDG6 will be the important role that businesses must play and the need to ensure that the rights to water and sanitation are met. As such, a year ago, the CEO Water Mandate and Shift released Guidance for Companies on Respecting the Rights to Water and Sanitation. The Guidance is the first comprehensive document that lays out how businesses can meet their responsibilities to respect the rights by incorporating them into existing water management practices, policies, and company cultures. 

    …»

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  • HRWS

    Knowing and Showing that Companies are Respecting the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation

    By Mai-Lan Ha, Senior Research Associate

    February 18, 2015

    The intersection of business, water, and human rights has a contentious past. From protests, to legal battles, to the suspension of business operations, addressing local community conflicts over water and sanitation issues is a business imperative. Last month, the Pacific Institute in its role as part of the Secretariat of the CEO Water Mandate launched the first comprehensive guide to help businesses meet their responsibility to respect the human rights to water and sanitation. The document Guidance for Companies on Respecting the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation: Bringing a Human Rights Lens to Corporate Water Stewardship provides companies with step-by-step guidance to know and to show that they are respecting the rights.

    …»

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  • discloure-guidelines-chart

    The Corporate Water Disclosure Guidelines – A common and meaningful way for companies to track and communicate their water performance, risks, and impacts

    by Peter Schulte, Research Associate

    October 7, 2014

    The Corporate Water Disclosure Guidelines are available as a PDF report and web-based tool.

    disclosure-guidelines-cover-2014This week, the CEO Water Mandate launched its finalized Corporate Water Disclosure Guidelines – a common approach for companies to effectively and intelligibly disclose the many elements of their corporate water management practice to key stakeholders. The Guidelines present an important step in corporate water stewardship that can help companies communicate with their stakeholders, and better understand themselves in the process. Here are a few (of many!) ways in which the Guidelines can benefit a company.

    Demonstrating good practice

    By providing meaningful quantitative metrics and qualitative approaches that describe corporate water practice, the Guidelines help companies demonstrate good performance and reduced risks and impacts to investors, consumers, communities, suppliers, their own employees, and others. This is particularly important as, in the past, many companies have used water-related metrics that are at best of only limited use, and at worse quite misleading! For example, traditional globally-aggregated water use metrics inherently hide and undervalue the local nature of water resource challenges. Perhaps a company’s global water use has decreased, but has it decreased in the places that are facing the most urgent water shortages?

    …»

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  • Q-mark

    GreenBiz Blog: The Three Questions You Need To Ask about Assessing Water Risk

    by Jason Morrison, director of the Pacific Institute Corporate Sustainability Program, and Sissel Waage, Director of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services at BSR (Business for Social Responsibility)

    July 28, 2014

    Q-markDo your company’s risk assessment processes consider water risk for every major capital decision, as well as operational management and supply chain partner screening? If not, it is time to call a meeting to revise business risk assessment and management procedures.

    The business case is now clear. For example, as quoted in the Ceres report “Murky Waters? Corporate Reporting on Water Risk” (PDF), the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission homes in on material risks as: “Changes in the availability or quality of water … can have material effects on companies.” JPMorgan’s “Watching Water” report (PDF) states: “In many situations, the risk of business interruption due to water scarcity appears to be on the rise, making contingency planning more important.”

    A UN Global Compact CEO Water Mandate report explains that “inside the fence-line” approaches are inadequate: “The simple measurement of corporate water use and discharge does not provide a complete picture of a company’s water risks or impacts. … As such, understanding and managing water risks requires companies to assess watershed conditions” (emphasis added)…

    Read the full blog at GreenBiz.

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  • These signs are common along Highway 5 in California’s Central Valley, especially where junior water-rights holders have land that won’t get water during droughts. Ironically, this one is placed right in front of a newly planted almond orchard.

    National Geographic ScienceBlogs: Why Has the Response to the California Drought Been so Weak?

    By Peter Gleick, President

    July 20, 2014

    In the past few weeks, I have had been asked the same question by reporters, friends, strangers, and even a colleague who posts regularly on this very ScienceBlogs site (the prolific and thoughtful Greg Laden): why, if the California drought is so bad, has the response been so tepid?

    There is no single answer to this question (and of course, it presumes (1) that the drought is bad; and (2) the response has been tepid). In many ways, the response is as complicated as California’s water system itself, with widely and wildly diverse sources of water, uses of water, prices and water rights, demands, institutions, and more. But here are some overlapping and relevant answers.

    First, is the drought actually very bad?

    …»

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