Dr. Glen Daigger has been traveling through Asia discussing water issues and solutions, and shares a travelogue of his journey which showcases the continued growing focus on water and environmental protection technology, and how the global community is coming together to address the complex challenge of sustainable water management. His trip included stops in China at the Yixing Environmental Science and Technology Park, Korea for the kick-off of preparations for the 7th World Water Forum, and Thailand for the Asia-Pacific Water Forum.

By Dr. Glen Daigger, International Water Association President and CH2M HILL Senior Vice President and Chief Water Technology Officer

May 10: Burgeoning Water Industry in China

Earlier this week I had the pleasure to be in Yixing, China, at the Yixing Environmental Science and Technology Park.  Yixing is in South Central China, West of Shanghai and South of Nanjing.  It is a community of about 1 million people.  Once a center of heavy industry, this manufacturing base has been moved because it was polluting the regional lake system.  Obviously the negative economic impact was substantial.  Beginning in 1972, the first environmental protection companies were founded there, which began a trend leading to Yixing becoming the environmental protection technology capital of China.  Environmental companies are springing up all around China.  But, in 1992 a State-sponsored industrial park focusing on environmental protection was founded in Yixing, which has grown to now occupy a 212 km2 site with over 1,500 companies employing about 30,000. It is by far the largest in China.

We are all aware of the environmental challenges facing China.  But, China is beginning to address these problems and is building the capacity to do so.  Companies in the Yixing Park are focused on the array of environmental issues, but especially wastewater treatment which represents about 70 percent of their business in aggregate.  Industrial wastewater treatment is a particular focus as it represents a serious problem that must be addressed.  Significantly, the objective of many of these companies is to “leap frog” the existing technology by developing and commercializing the next generation of technology.  Partnering with the outstanding engineering universities in China, such as the Harbin Institute of Technology and Tonji University, and with the best on a global basis, these companies are proceeding to do this.  There is also a significant focus on resource recovery, thereby achieving not only environmental protection but also economic benefits.  We need to keep our eye on what develops because these companies not only have the focus but also the market size to develop and evolve world leading technology.

May 17: Kick-off of Preparations for 7th World Water Forum

I am in the second week of my Asian trip and have just participated in the kick-off of the preparations leading up to the 7th World Water Forum (WWF) to be held April, 2015 in Daegu, Korea.  This global event, organized by the World Water Council, is held every three years and brings together national governmental and policy leaders from around the world to address water issues.  The previous (6th) WWF was held in Marsailles, France, last year and focused on identifying solutions to the world’s water problems.  The Daegu forum will focus on implementation.

The program for the WWF is organized around “commissions,” which are really a whole series of events which lead up to the program at the forum itself.  There are four commissions:  (1) regional, (2) policy, (3) thematic, and (4) science and technology.  For example, the regional commission consists of a more than year-long series of events in the various regions of the world to ensure that regional issues and differences are identified, characterized, and addressed at the forum.  The International Water Association has been tasked with leading the science and technology commission, and I have specifically been appointed co-chair of this commission along with a Korean counterpart.  We are just at the beginning point planning the activities of the commission, but I can tell you that this is both an extremely interesting and exciting opportunity for me, and one with significant potential.  It provides a unique opportunity for the scientific and practice professional community to consolidate our message to policy-makers, and to deliver this consolidated message to them.  As we all know, the best science and technology is irrelevant unless we have aligned and implemented policies.  You will be hearing more from me on this as the activities of the commission are defined during the next few months and the program is executed.  But, I feel blessed by this opportunity, and humbled by it.

May 20: Asia-Pacific Water Forum

I am coming to the conclusion of the 2-1/2 week trip to Asia that I have been reporting on and am on the way home from my last stop at the Asia-Pacific Water Forum in Chiang-Mai, Thailand.  I had not been in Thailand for some time, and it was a pleasure to be there again as the Thai people are very friendly and quite hospitable.  Chiang Mai is in the uplands and is not as hot and humid as locations like Bangkok, although it was still near 90o F during the day.  The evenings were lovely, though.

I attended the official part of the forum, along with IWA Executive Director Dr. Ger Bergkamp, where the official delegations from the Asia-Pacific countries were present.  Quite a bit of protocol.  The first keynote address on the second day was given by the Prime Minister of Thailand, and a number of other heads of State were present.  The size of the countries present was astounding, ranging from small Pacific Ocean island-states up to China.  The location in Thailand allowed several to emphasize the increasing occurrence of extreme weather events as the severe flooding in Thailand at the end of 2011 is well known.  In fact, the Forum was initially scheduled for that timeframe but was postponed due to the flooding occurring then.  Sea level rise was very much a topic for the Pacific Ocean countries, and of course the provision of water and sanitation along with environmental degradation were other topics.  One astounding statistic was that it was reported that the water quality in 80% of the rivers in Southeast Asia are in poor condition.

Water is definitely rising on the world’s agenda – recognition of the adverse impacts of poor water management.  I wish that the negative economic consequences were better understood so that the question, “how are we going to afford good water management?” would go away as policy makers would recognize that good water management pays for itself through the economic benefits provided.  My official comment at the forum was to recommend that we “tell the whole story of water, and tell it honestly.”  For example, we continue to talk about how to implement “water reuse.”  In fact, all water is reused.  Throughout Asia (and other locations), untreated wastewater is discharged into waterways and subsequently taken back out (downstream) and used again.  What we need to do is to improve the safety and effectiveness of reuse.  Making progress, but more to do.

Read all of Dr. Daigger’s travelogues.