White House roundtable focuses on water technology innovation

The importance of water technology innovation got some well-deserved White House attention recently.

The importance of water technology innovation got some well-deserved White House attention recently. In mid-December, on the heels of the Paris climate summit, several federal entities - including the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of the Interior, the Office of Science & Technology Policy, and the Center on Environmental Quality - hosted a roundtable discussion aimed at “laying the foundation for game-changing breakthrough technologies” to address water resources challenges.

Dr. John Holdren, President Obama’s senior advisor on science and technology issues, acknowledged that the challenges are numerous and include supply side, demand side, and infrastructure aspects - all further exacerbated by climate change.

“Most decisions about water allocation and management in the United States are made by state, local, and tribal authorities who know and understand the needs of their communities and regions,” said Dr. Holdren. “But the stakeholders and the authorities who are on the front line of dealing with existing and emerging stresses on the water system don’t always have the information they need.

This is where the federal government can play a supporting role, Holdren said, “by funding research and development that harnesses American ingenuity and innovation.”

Some of these innovations, he said, include better sensors for leak detection, new materials for pipes and coatings, and the integration of the Internet of Things to leverage greater water efficiencies. He also pointed to the importance of scaling up and facilitating the adoption of existing technologies, like desalination and water recycling.

“We’ve got some very significant challenges,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “We have not invested in our water infrastructure in the way that we did in the last century, and it’s catching up to us.” Part of the solution is engaging the private sector, she said. To that end, she announced the formation of the Natural Resource Investment Center, a program that will be based in the Department of the Interior but that works across “the federal family.”

“Our goal is to provide resources and information to many partners involved in water resources across the country,” she said, “and to bring private sector, nonprofits, academic institutions, states and other stakeholders to the table.”

One of the Center’s main objectives is to promote innovative financing instruments that will fund critical water infrastructure and can help stretch limited water supplies - such as through mitigation banks. Other goals include increasing water infrastructure and facilitating water exchanges and transfers, all with an eye toward involving the private sector.

“We want to be effective, efficient partners with you,” she told roundtable attendees, “and we want to stretch every dollar you have with every dollar we have to maximum benefit.”

To learn more about the Natural Resource Investment Center, visit www.doi.gov.

Angela Godwin

Chief Editor, WaterWorld

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