This year the Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s Game Changers event included a panel combining two topics that are very near and dear to the hearts of many Californians: water conservation and technology. The panel entitled, “Drought – A Way Out” was a fascinating exchange between Silicon Valley tech leaders and high-profile political leaders on how their two worlds can partner to help find solutions to the devastating drought in the Western U.S. The impressive roster of panelists included Toni Atkins, California Assembly Speaker, Andy Ball, western region president of Suffolk Construction, Helen Burt, Sr. vice president of external affairs and public policy for PG&E, Deepak Garg, CEO of Smart Utility Systems (and one of our clients at Edelman!), Steve Burglund, CEO of Trimble Navigation, and Jeff Lipton, director of marketing for WaterSmart Software.
The point that was arguably emphasized most during the discussion was that we shouldn’t be short-sighted about the drought and go back to overusing water resources once we start to experience some rainfall and relief. The audience agreed. In a poll conducted during the event, 82 percent of attendees voted that current mandated water citations should become the “new normal,” for at least the next five years.
The bottom line is that water scarcity isn’t just a temporary problem, and it isn’t just a California problem. The UN estimates that with the existing climate change scenario, almost half the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress by 2030. Additionally, they anticipate that with population growth rates, feeding the world’s expanding population will increase water demand 70 to 90 percent by 2050 without improved agricultural methods. The uptick in innovation and investment in technology and legislations for better water management spurred by the drought is one big step in the right direction, and the message from the panelists was clear: “Keep it up!”
Horror stories detailing the severity of the drought and California’s struggle to cope with it are a dime a dozen these days. The Sacramento Bee recently reported that the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which the state relies on for roughly one third of its drinking water, is the lowest it’s been in 500 years and the anticipated El Niño winter storms aren’t expected to bring much relief. It’s clear that California’s government and water utilities will continue to have their hands full with drought response issues, but another important message from the panelists was loud and clear: Drought isn’t just a problem for government, utilities and farmers to worry about; for water conservation efforts to be effective and enduring, all water consumers should be engaged.
Thankfully California’s bustling tech industry has given way to new innovations that help water utilities reinvent how they engage with consumers, provide consumers with real-time water usage information, enable consumers to easily report water waste issues in their neighborhoods directly to utilities, and more. With the right solutions, utilities and municipalities can empower all residents to play an active part in water conservation efforts leading to more informed and conscientious water consumers.
The panelist also were asked to share what they are doing at home to conserve water. Answers included capturing and watering plants with water from shower warm-ups and dog bowls, installing water efficient faucets, toilets, and smart sprinklers, opting for drought-resistant plants when gardening, letting lawns go brown, among others. While these personal water-saving tips came from a lineup of industry leaders, their suggestions were simple and practical solutions that almost anyone can apply at home.
It’s critical for leaders across all sectors including technology, government, agriculture and industrial to continue working together with California residents on urgently improving how we conserve and manage water. The exchange of ideas and the passion about water conservation among the leaders at the Game Changers conference was inspiring, uplifting and great reassurance that we’re headed in the right direction.
Photo Credit: Global Water Partnership (Flickr: Drought), via Flickr Creative Commons