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Henry Vaux, Jr.
Discussing solutions to water problems
By Deane Morrison
Published on April 5, 2005
You may enjoy a cheap and plentiful supply of water in your home, but the nation and the world are running out. What to do about the situation is the subject of "Envisioning Solutions to the Nation's Water Problems," a free public lecture by Henry Vaux, Jr., at 3 p.m. Wednesday, April 6, in the Bell Museum Auditorium.
A retired professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Vaux chaired the National Research Council Committee on Assessment of Water Resources Research. The panel concluded that water problems are many and increasing in severity in all regions of the country.
In his address, Vaux will focus on five areas, underlining the urgent need for sound science to support actions:
- Safety of drinking water. It isn't as safe as it ought to be. One of the latest contaminants is perchlorate, a chemical used in rocket fuels and munitions, which has leached into groundwater in 14 states, affecting 12 million people.
- Supporting population growth and a healthy environment. A review by the National Academy of Sciences suggested that decisions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on balancing California and Oregon farmers' needs for irrigation water and protection of endangered species of fish were based on inadequate sciences. And scarcities don't occur only in the West; a dispute between Maryland and Virginia over use of Potomac River water has gone to the U.S. Supreme Court.
- Maintenance and enhancement of water quality. This can be difficult, especially with nonpoint (i.e., widespread, as in agricultural runoff) sources of pollution.
- Water policy. Policy-making is often hampered by lack of scientific knowledge. For example, under the "no net loss of wetlands" policy of President George H.W. Bush, wetlands were lost due to lack of knowledge about how to restore them.
- Adapting to climate change. Science has performed well in predicting the consequences of climate change on water supplies, but not on what to do about it.
At the Millennium Summit in 2000, world leaders set a goal of cutting in half the number of people in the world who lack a steady supply of clean water and a sanitation system by the year 2015. In order to meet that goal, a clean water supply must be delivered to 200,000 new people each day between now and then; for sanitation, the number is 400,000 people per day. Given that these problems are not high on the national agenda, Vaux sees little hope of reaching these goals or averting other problems. "I don't think we'll be able to forestall the crisis," he says.
Vaux's talk is the latest in the "Power of Water" lecture series, and is part of the President's 21st Century Interdisciplinary Conferences series.