Tackling “Hot” Water Issues Symposium

By Casey Beebe

On a sunny Saturday in November we held the first of a series of symposiums focused on “hot” water issues. Our Hot Water Issues symposium brought nearly 100 people together to hear three distinct perspectives on water issues: how water conservation can make a difference, what is being detected in our water and the corresponding health effects, and what climate research is telling us about managing our precious water.

Amy Vickers, who helped spearhead this symposium, is a nationally known water conservation and efficiency expert. Drawing on her experience working on projects around the country, Amy gave a fascinating talk informing us about actual use patterns and the difference that infrastructure, efficiency and conservation can make. Did you know that 33% of U.S. water use is for outdoor watering? Therefore, watering bans or watering reduction rules like “you can water on Tuesdays and Sundays” can be hugely helpful in conserving local water supplies, if implemented early enough in the summer. In the case of this summer’s drought, this could have greatly protected our waterways and the wildlife in our rivers. Another interesting figure: there are a top 1% of U.S. households that use an average of 13,500 gallons a day, while the average single family home uses 250 gallons a day!

Our second speaker was Dr. Laurel Schaider, a research scientist at the Silent Spring Institute in Newton, MA. She focused her research on testing water and found contaminants such as hormones, antimicrobials, pharmaceuticals, highly fluorinated chemicals, pathogens, artificial sweeteners, fragrances, detergents, flame retardants, and preservatives. She spoke about the patterns in her findings as well as her concern about contaminants we haven’t even begun to look at like nanoparticles, metabolites, and chemo-therapeutics, raising the importance of the precautionary principle in guiding policy and regulation.

Our third and final speaker was Dr. Casey Brown, Associate Professor at UMass and an expert in water resources systems analysis and climate risk assessment. His risk assessment shows, like so many resource issues, that those at greatest risk of water shortages, contamination and ecological degradations are those with “less resources.” He spoke on climate risk management in water infrastructure and decision-making in the context of climate uncertainty. Drawing on his experience working on projects around the world, Casey points to those at greatest risk of water shortages, contamination, and ecological destruction as those in some of our poorest communities and countries.

It was a sobering day but one filled with tangible, realistic, and impactful actions we can all take. We plan to hold another Water Issues Symposium this spring. Stay tuned.

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