Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, thinks that World Water Forum organizers should have been ashamed that fracking, the colloquial term referring to unconventional natural gas drilling, was not at the top of the Forum’s agenda. I can understand her frustration. Over six days of panels, I could only find one dedicated to hydraulic fracturing, and it was a comparably small discussion at that—only lasting an hour with three panelists, compared to the two hour time blocks with upwards of ten panelists at the majority of other panels. The panel ,“Hydraulic Fracturing: The Case for a Global Ban,” consisted of Ms. Hauter from the United States, Borislav Sandov of the Bulgarian National Civil Committee against Shale Gas, and Corinne Lepage, former Minister of the Environment for France and current member of the European Parliament. The panelists discussed how they believe a global ban is in order while coming from countries with differing viewpoints: Bulgaria and France have both banned it, while the United States is actively drilling. Fracking is the process of extracting natural gas from deep shale formations. Used in combination with horizontal drilling, the technology has allowed access to natural gas reserves in shale formations previously considered uneconomical. The process requires millions of gallons of water and thousands of gallons of chemicals (per frack, per well).
With a cup of a native Finnish drink made from the flower of the fir tree, I sat down at Finland’s booth at the World Water Forum’s Exhibition Hall to learn about how the country has solved issues relating to the sustainable use of their waters. Finland has a unique position at the Forum in that it is one of the few countries to have plentiful reserves of fresh water, and whose total water use is only 2% of the total reserve. The country has been successful in protecting and managing their waters, and now feels like they are in the position to help other countries by teaching about best practices, particularly their experience in integrated water resources management and water and wastewater treatment. Finland is often at the top of the list for its environmental health, while the United States usually ranks around #50. This is due in large part to the country’s protection of land, how seriously it takes climate change, and how it responds to water pollution. As a student of public health and the environment, I was curious to learn more about Finland and their approach to such issues.
According to Dr. William Cosgrove, the keynote speaker from the special focus session, Water and the Future of Humankind, we have entered a new time era — the Anthropocene, . The Anthropocene is a term that reflects the extent to which humans have altered the planet and environment. The discussion addressed the importance of imagining the future that we would like to have with water. Using this imagined future, we should then “backcast” instead of forecast to determine the actions we should do today to get to the future we have planned for ourselves, a model developed by the Portuguese Gulbenkian Think Tank. The panel was made up of five elderly gentlemen: the fact that no women were part of the panel was disappointing. It was acknowledged by Dr. Cosgrove that men have made most of the water decisions in history that have led us to water scarcity and overuse. He also said, however, that women are finally being recognized as being an important part of water use decisions.
As Lindsey discussed in her earlier post, there are a number of online calculators which you can use to calculate your water footprint. A water footprint is the amount of water needed to produce the goods and services you use, and it is important to be aware of this number because it helps us reduce our water use. But, what is the water footprint of an entire conference about water? This was one of the questions I was able to ask Marseille’s Deputy Mayor, Martine Vassal, when I sat down with her to discuss her role in planning the forum as a board member of the International Forum Committe. We also discussed the ideas that went in to making sure the week’s events would leave as small a footprint as possible. It is difficult to accurately calculate the water footprint for an event the scale of the Forum, which is estimated to draw 25,000 participants.
The panel Using Our Water Resources Smartly; Getting Water Resource Management Right, opened this week’s nine-panel discussion about Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM). The panels will explore IWRM — what works and what doesn’t. IWRM is a principle that takes a look at the whole picture of freshwater use by acknowledging a river basin as an integrated system instead of a number of separate water sources. It involves a holistic planning process to balance the multiple uses of a basin, coordinating drinking water needs with industrial water needs, to name only a few. Currently, I am a resident in the Delaware River Basin which is located in the Eastern United States. It supplies water to 15 million people, including residents of New York City and Philadelphia. Carol Collier, the Executive Director of the Delaware River Basin Commission and the first panelist to present, talked about and the importance of having regulations that cross political and political boundaries.