Water crisis faces world, demands attention

For those who enjoy those long showers, flushable toilets and green lawns, water expert Robert Glennon has one message: There is a water crisis in America, and something needs to be done about it.

The author of “Unquenchable,” recent guest of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and professor at the University of Arizona, Robert Glennon was the featured speaker at the Illinois Water 2010 conference, a biennial event than ran Tuesday through Thursday at the Hilton Garden Inn, 1501 S. Neil St., Champaign.

The conference covered both state and national water issues, said Lisa Merrifield, conference chair.

“We’re dealing with water quality, quantity and sustainability,” she said.

Many people seem to view water as an infinite resource, Glennon said, when really it is quite finite and quite exhaustible.

“We humans have an infinite capacity to deny reality,” was the mantra Glennon repeated.

Many rivers are already on life support, he said, and some companies have already have shut down due to issues with water shortages, causing many to lose jobs,

“We may frown on the United States about running out of oil, but water lubricates the American economy just as much as oil does,” he said.

One factor of the water crisis in America, Glennon said, is the population density in areas where water is not easily accessible.

“People are moving from places where the water is, like Michigan, to places where it isn’t, like California,” he said.

This, in addition to the complication of global climate change, creates an incredible disconnect between water supply and demand regionally, Glennon said.

Many methods have been implemented to solve the water crisis, some more successfully than others, he said.

Groundwater pumping has been the go-to method of getting water, but it is not a sustainable method as it dries up lakes and rivers.

Desalination, the removal of salt from ocean water, could work, but it is very expensive. There is also a leftover highly concentrated salt brine, and nowhere to put this excess waste, he said.

Reclaimed water is another route, which some people call “toilet-to-tap” water, he said. There are many good things that could come out of it, but it is also very expensive and would require a new system of pipes.

There is no silver bullet solution, Glennon said.

“There is instead what I call a menu of options,” he said. “It’s not one size fits all, it’s going to be pick and choose among communities to keep the crisis from becoming a catastrophe.”

Glennon has three suggestions for smart water use in America: changing our excrement disposal system, putting a cost on water, and figuring out a successful method of water reallocation.

“I want to take dead-aim at the American toilet,” Glennon said.