Dr. Glen Daigger has served as the International Water Association (IWA) president since 2010. IWA seeks to engage and bring people together from across the water profession to deliver equitable and sustainable water solutions for our world. Glen shares why the organization is positioned for success in the new year and beyond.

By: Dr. Glen Daigger, CH2M HILL Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer and IWA President

As I recently shared with International Water Association members, I am confident that IWA’s future looks bright in 2014 and beyond, for three main reasons.

First, the global rise of water on political and business agendas is providing increased policy, institutional, and financial support to address water issues. The principal reason for this trend can be found in the growing recognition of increasing water scarcity. Water has historically been recognized as a strategic resource. Historic societies developed adjacent to water resources, and their social structure was organized to effectively manage these resources. Excellent examples exist in Asia, the Middle East, and throughout Central and South America. Water management throughout the Roman Empire is also well documented. In many ways the industrial revolution was fueled by water as water power was harnessed to enable mechanization of production. Because of the co-evolution of society and water management, water has been considered to be an available resource. If insufficient quantities existed in the immediate locality, facilities were simply built to bring it from more remote locations. What has changed is the disappearance of more “remote locations”, as available water resources have been fully exploited.

Water is now not only strategic but also scarce. In fact, water scarcity is on track to soon become the norm for more than half of the citizens of planet earth. Since water is a strategic resource for economic growth and human well-being, this emerging situation is gaining the attention of business, government, and community leaders. These new partners are available for the water profession to engage with. They understand that approaches to water management must change to avoid significant economic disruption, and to avoid further increases in social inequity. Increased understanding of the connection between appropriate water and sanitation, and human and economic health, is also engaging an increasing array of global policy makers in water issues. The recent declaration, by the United Nations of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation, represents this growing understanding and commitment.

Second, the rapid expansion of our scientific knowledge is providing revolutionary insights that are being converted into practical water solutions. Numerous examples exist in the core water and wastewater treatment practices. Examples include: the emergence of Anammox-based wastewater treatment systems for more sustainable nitrogen removal; continuing developments in desalination, including new membrane technologies; and advanced oxidation technologies. Information technology is providing an expanding range of tools for better managing networks and the assets that they depend on. Our fundamental understanding of the role that natural systems can play in managing water quality and available quantity is expanding rapidly, allowing us to marry these systems with traditional built water infrastructure. Enabled by these advances in technology, momentum continues to grow for a wide variety of water reuse practices. More broadly, new irrigation technologies and practices are improving agricultural water efficiency, and new, more drought-resistance crop lines, are being developed. Industrial water use and wastewater management is advancing rapidly. This abbreviated listing of the emerging opportunities illustrates the burgeoning toolkit available to the water practitioner today.

Third, growing momentum for change within the water profession is advancing action more rapidly than has been the case in the past. Water professionals are increasingly adopting these new technologies and practices, and many of our colleagues are engaging in the technology and adoption process. There is a growing recognition that we are not meeting water needs, in neither developing nor developed world contexts, and that change is needed to allow us to do so. Growing understanding of the concept of sustainability, which has always been implicit to the water profession, is also inducing water professionals to move more quickly to adopt new technologies and practices. IWA members have always been change agents within the profession, driving the profession forward to provide greater service to human society and to protect the environment. These activities, and the forces listed above, are helping to advance the results achieved through the leadership provided by IWA.

The above speaks to the growing recognition of the importance for action on water and the factors that are enabling increased action. One more item makes me very optimistic about the future of IWA. It is the growing capability of the Association to provide leadership to the water profession and to advise government and business leaders on how to more effectively solve our water problems.