Volume 91 Issue 20 | p. 37 | ACS Comments
Issue Date: May 20, 2013

ACS Global Water Initiative: The Grand Challenge Of Water

By Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, ACS President, David L. Sedlak, Jerald L. Schnoor
Department: ACS News | Collection: Climate Change, Green Chemistry
News Channels: Environmental SCENE
Keywords: water, sustainability, environment, ACS, ACS Global Water Initiative, ACS Comment
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Credit: Shutterstock
Water canal for paddy rice field.
 
Credit: Shutterstock

The world is facing a water crisis. In the developed world, increasing demands for water—for cities, for industry, for agriculture, and for the extraction of fossil fuels—are straining an already burdened system. In the developing world, nearly 1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water and sanitation because of the absence of distribution systems for clean water.

Throughout history, water has been considered a plentiful resource, available for the taking. In the developed world, society constructed the infrastructure necessary to direct water to where it was needed, and once the water had been used, it was returned to the environment as waste. The availability of inexpensive water and the inattention to waste disposal fostered rapid development of agriculture, industries, and cities throughout the world. However, this situation cannot persist; we are reaching the limits of our water supply.

In the developing world, the same type of infrastructure that has been built in developed countries would help alleviate disease and extend life expectancies for impoverished people. However, it would also lock them into the same predicament as the developed countries, requiring future investments in systems that even rich countries are struggling to maintain.

What is needed throughout the world is a new generation of sustainable water systems. We must deploy new technologies to provide for recycling of municipal and industrial wastewater and adopt more stringent standards for waterborne pollutants. This is the Grand Challenge of Water: the creation of new, sustainable water systems for the developed and developing world. Meeting this challenge requires the efforts of chemists, collaborating with engineers and other scientists and influencing decisionmakers.

We propose launching an ACS Global Water Initiative because we believe that the American Chemical Society can and should play a larger role in meeting the Grand Challenge of Water. The initiative can prepare our members for the challenges and opportunities that will accompany the coming revolution in water management.

ACS already provides leadership to the research community through journals such as Environmental Science & Technology and the recently launched e-journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering. But beyond its role in communicating research, ACS should expand its efforts to educate the public and decisionmakers on topics related to water, especially those that are pertinent to chemistry.

Much as ACS’s recent effort on the Climate Science Toolkit (www.acs.org/climatescience) is helping the society’s members to address the grand challenge of climate change, a similar effort on water could raise awareness and build support among people and organizations that will invest in our water future. ACS can and must help educate citizens and government officials that our “unlimited” water resource is threatened. It is vulnerable to the forces that cause increasingly frequent floods and droughts, to deleterious runoff from cities and farms, and to depletion through overpumping and contamination of aquifers. Updated infrastructure, novel treatment systems, and water reuse are all needed.

In addition to advocating for technologies that make water use more efficient and less pollutive, ACS could lead member discussions about how chemicals used in commerce impact water resources. We must reexamine the use of chemicals that are not amenable to treatment or that produce toxic by-products during treatment. We live in a water-stressed world in which runoff from city streets and farm fields causes severe problems in coastal ecosystems as well as freshwater lakes and rivers. ACS and its members can help the chemical enterprise find creative ways of making water systems more sustainable and affordable.

The ACS mission to “advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and its people” empowers the society and its members to meet the Grand Challenge of Water. We have a responsibility to join with other organizations and agencies to prepare for a better water future. For without water, there is no future.

Bassam Z. Shakhashiri is a professor of chemistry, University of Wisconsin, Madison; David L. Sedlak is a professor of civil and environmental engineering, University of California, Berkeley; Jerald L. Schnoor is a professor of civil and environmental engineering, University of Iowa, and editor-in-chief of Environmental Science & Technology. We welcome your comments at bassam@chem.wisc.edu.

 

Views expressed on this page are those of the authors and not necessarily those of ACS.

 
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Comments
B Bullough (Tue May 21 14:51:21 EDT 2013)
Looks like trolling for tax dollars, rather than anything new. The sentence, "We must deploy new technologies to provide for recycling of municipal and industrial wastewater..." exposes the twist. The only thing new is a new attitude, and new laws that allow recycling (other than the old fashioned way that has been in use literally for ever). For decades the cleanest water in many major cities is that discharged from the WWTP. It is typically cleaner than tap water, but there are laws and societal attitudes that preclude it's use as tap water. If unsustainable cities (Phoenix, Los Angelels, Las Vegas, and myriad others) were to encourage, allow and even make reuse the only option, there would be a lot of money saved, attitudes changed, and improvements made. The technologies have existed for decades. Save the request for research grants for something that is really needed, really innovative.
Dale Brabham (Wed May 22 18:16:12 EDT 2013)
The future supply of water is recycle and reuse, that is, soon we will be taking water from the toilet back to the tap. In the USA we are depleting our aquifers at an unsustainable pace. Yes, the technology to reuse is already available, but there are still technical issues and not just aesthetic or cultural barriers. These technical issues are more and more chemical in nature. The ACS is right to take up the global challenge of meeting the need for clean, safe water. I am delighted to support this initiative, and it seems that we might have some educating to do right in our own society first.
Stephen Coutts (Wed May 22 19:21:04 EDT 2013)
The future of water will not only be to recycle and reuse, but also more efficient and widespead capture, and investment in infrastructure to bring it from where it is plentiful to where it was not - which is changing as the global climate changes. The five year drought in the Southwest, the dry Rio Grande shrinking aquafers are hints that much more aggressive water management will be required on a regional and national basis.
P.Raghuveera cahry  (Thu Sep 26 02:08:56 EDT 2013)
we are running 180 schools with more than 100000 students in southern state ANDRA PRADESH OF India, i think we should take all the initiative steps to educate every child right from the schooling level, should organize the programs in every school and +2 colleges to explain the importance of water preserve,water management and unnecessary wastage of water and other important information about water ,we have initiated this programs and seen the best results , in fact the children educating their parents also .please think of this idea
P.Raghuveera cahry  (Thu Sep 26 02:09:49 EDT 2013)
we are running 180 schools with more than 100000 students in southern state ANDRA PRADESH OF India, i think we should take all the initiative steps to educate every child right from the schooling level, should organize the programs in every school and +2 colleges to explain the importance of water preserve,water management and unnecessary wastage of water and other important information about water ,we have initiated this programs and seen the best results , in fact the children educating their parents also .please think of this idea
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