UN, MWDSC to enlist Southern Calf. students to solve world water issues

Southern California World Water Forum to launch yearlong grant competition for hundreds of students at area's community colleges, universities...

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 20, 2004 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- As part of the United Nations' "International Decade of Fresh Water," the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California will kick off on Oct. 22 a year-long grant competition that will mobilize hundreds of college students throughout Southern California to help address global water issues.

Up to 150 students from a dozen community colleges and universities throughout Southern California will join Metropolitan board Chairman Phillip J. Pace, John W. Keys III, commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and Marcia Brewster of the United Nations to launch the pioneering grant program during a four-hour workshop at Metropolitan headquarters in downtown Los Angeles.

"Clean, reliable water is a vitally important resource in Southern California as it is for billions of people the world over," Pace said. "Through the Southern California World Water Forum program, we're counting on students to develop innovative ideas for bringing good, clean water to the billions of people all over the world who need it."

According to the United Nations, more than one billion people worldwide do not have sustainable access to safe drinking water, and 2.6 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. In response, the U.N.'s General Assembly proclaimed 2005-2015 as the International Decade for Action, "Water for Life," which includes a commitment by all 191 member nations to reduce by half the proportion of people unable to reach or afford safe drinking water.

"If we truly hope to meet these goals and protect our precious water resources, each of us needs to see clean water as our individual responsibility," said Marcia Brewster, senior officer in the United Nations' Division for Sustainable Development.

"The World Water Forum highlights the types of actions that can support the decade and inspire people to respect, use, enjoy, protect and restore their own waterways. Grant competition winners should be recognized and their work widely disseminated," Brewster added.

Metropolitan has partnered with Friends of the United Nations and local college chapters of the Model UN Program to underscore the importance of water quality issues through the Southern California World Water Forum grant competition. The $120,000 program will award up to $10,000 to as many as 12 college teams to research and develop water-use efficiency technology that can be employed cost-effectively in water-stressed regions, locally or internationally. Grant proposals are due to Metropolitan by Jan. 31, 2005.

Colleges participating in Friday's workshop include the University of Southern California; California State Universities in Long Beach, Fullerton, San Bernardino and the Channel Islands; University of California at Riverside; University of California at San Diego; Cal Poly Pomona; Cerritos College; Los Angeles Valley College and Santa Ana College.

Ronald R. Gastelum, Metropolitan's chief executive officer, said the program also would help address the critical nationwide need to educate and develop a committed and skilled workforce in the engineering fields.

"For decades, Metropolitan and other organizations have excelled in our field because of the skill of our workers. Today, we are at a critical point in re-energizing the engineering field with young, talented students," Gastelum said. "Hopefully, the support from programs like the Southern California World Water Forum will inspire us to help chip away at some of the water problems that a huge portion of the world's population faces."

Benita Lynn Horn, Metropolitan's manager of the Southern California Water Forum, said the interdisciplinary program will bring together students from academic applications ranging from international studies, urban planning and political science to civil engineering, economics and environmental sciences.

"To qualify, these student teams must design a rendering or prototype of a technology or process that improves water-use efficiency," Horn said. "They also must develop a business plan that includes a budget and timeline, as well as addresses the environmental, financial, societal and public policy implications of their proposal."

Partners in the program include the Bureau of Reclamation; the California Department of Water Resources; Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County; the United Nations Foundation; the American Society of Civil Engineers; Water for People; and the Family of Southern California Water Agencies.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is a cooperative of 26 cities and water agencies serving 18 million people in six counties. The district imports water from the Colorado River and Northern California to supplement local supplies, and helps its members to develop increased water conservation, recycling, storage and other resource-management programs.

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