The Tree of Life installation at Expo 2015 in Milan, Italy, which had a theme of "Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life."
This is not a top 10 list of big ideas and trends in the world of water for 2015. Many of these are a repeat of my recap of 2014 and thoughts on what to expect. There is so much activity, both noise and progress, that no single list will correctly capture the "best."
Instead this is very much my take on what I believe is important progress, essentially the good news for the year in the world of water. With that in mind, here we go.
Sustainable Development Goal No. 6
Unlike the Millennium Development Goals, the SDGs have a goal focused on access to clean water and sanitation. This is a key event — the public sector will explore ways to achieve this goal and the private sector also will be a key stakeholder in helping to achieve this goal. A few key aspects of SDG No. 6 will be who will pay to achieve these goals and how do we measure progress. I believe information/communication technologies will have a role to play in achieving the goal and monitoring progress.
Value of water and water stewardship
There is traction in moving from water management to water stewardship, and part of that transition includes greater focus on the value of water. While many companies are still thinking about the price and cost of water, leading companies are quantifying the value of water to their operations and embedding this into their business growth strategies. The Alliance for Water Stewardship, Value of Water Coalition and the IFC/WWF Value of Water report (PDF) all helped drive a more sophisticated view of water and its value to the public and private sectors.
State and local initiatives
The action in addressing water related risks to economic development are at the state and local levels. While this year the state of California moved ahead with mandatory conservation, it was by no means alone in developing long-term water strategies to address current and projected water scarcity. Last year the Western Governors Association released its Drought Report (PDF), Colorado finalized its state water plan and Michigan released its draft water plan. In addition, local water issues focused on the need for investments in water infrastructure to address potable water quality. Recent events have triggered increased attention to the investment required in our aging infrastructure.
Some states proactively were addressing water scarcity issues and other states were declaring that they had "abundant" water but had a plan to ensure water was available to "fuel" economic development, business growth and social well-being. 2015 was the year states started to position for competitive advantage based upon water availability arrived — companies will embed water availability into site selection criteria.
Internet of Things and Information technology
The Internet of Things and Information Communication Technologie emerged as part, perhaps a large part, of the solution to address water scarcity and quality. In particular, IoT and ICT is positioned to drive solutions to the energy-water-food nexus stress. The goal is to deploy digital and connected systems in developed and emerging economies to drive more efficient, effective, resilient and sustainable use of resources for the 11 billion people projected by 2050.
Water 'business ecosystems' and aligned action
Business ecosystems emerged as innovative partnerships to address water risks for both the public sectors. For the most part, companies and the public sector recognize that water related risks can’t be addressed alone. An ecosystem of stakeholders are needed coupled with a process to catalyze action — whether it is collective action or aligned action the thinking is the same. Mobilize a group of stakeholders to solve the complex challenge of water enabled by technology innovation.
Reporting and disclosure and Alliance for Water Stewardship
The march towards increased reporting and disclosure continued. However, one can’t ignore "reporting fatigue" by companies as they question the value of reporting. While transparent communication and in some cases radical transparency is essential to build trust with stakeholders and achieve common goals, reporting likely will play a part but not the entire role in leveraging a water stewardship strategy. Watch if AWS adoption increases this year — who signs up and the impact of the framework on addressing water scarcity and quality.
As long as water scarcity is framed as "the drought," we run the risk of hope as a strategy — we just need it to rain. Well, we can call it a drought or extended drought but the reality is that the past is not a guide to the future. Water scarcity is driven primarily by increasing population growth and what comes with more people. Also, about 80 percent of the water discharged globally is untreated. Time to align public policy with the reality of increased competition for water.
We have acknowledged the energy–water–food nexus and the challenges associated with providing these resources for a projected 11 billion. We need to focus on implementing solutions to the nexus stress. The key question is how we deflect this scarcity trajectory — what needs to change with regards to public policy and technology. New partnerships, policies and technologies have the potential to provide these basic resources and improve social well-being.
Funding: Who pays and for what?
There are two question — how does the public sector in pay for infrastructure repairs and new infrastructure and what does this infrastructure look like? Are we going to build 20th century infrastructure or 21st century infrastructure? What does innovation in water infrastructure look like and what are the innovative funding models to meet 21st century needs?
Technology innovation moves along but the question remains — how do you fund technology adoption and how do you accelerate adoption in a sector often criticized for being slow to accept change? How do we change the dynamics so venture capital views the water industry as an exciting business opportunity? How do water technology hubs and accelerators drive innovation but also commercialization? Watch what the water tech hubs accomplish in 2016.
All great progress but still much to do in view of what needs to be accomplished.