Water managers from around the world at USF

06/01/09 Seán Kinane
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This morning at the University of South Florida, 20 water managers from around the world exchanged ideas about that essential resource with people from the Tampa Bay area. The internationals are students from the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education in Delft, The Netherlands.

USF’s Dr. Kiran C. Patel Center for Global Solutions hosted the students, who are in Florida to learn about “Sustainable Water Resources Management through Alternative Water Supplies.”

One of the students, Philip Padi, is from Ghana where he works to solve the shortage of drinking water in rural communities.

“Normally we don’t have good surface water. So we rely on the groundwater by locating sites -- they drill and then we pump into the various communities that need the water.”

Besides the lack of potable water in rural Ghana, the quality of the drinking water is also a problem, Padi says. Due to local geology, there are regions where the ground water contains too much fluorine.

“Some of them that could be treated, we treat them. If they are not able to be treated, then we just close that well completely. Those are the main issues that we’re dealing with: the scarcity and then the quality aspect of the water.”

One of professors from the program Padi is participating in, Dimitri Solomatine, told the Tampa Bay area guests about the vision of the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education program.

“We see the world in which people would manage water and environment in a sustainable manner.”

The program is funded mostly by the Dutch government, Solomatine says. But its 14,000 alumni have come from all over the world, mostly from developing countries. These students are learning about modeling for water management, or hydroinformatics.

“It is modeling information and communication technology and computer sciences applied to problems of aquatic environment, with the purpose of better management.”

Another student, Lu Shenglan is from Wuhan in China, downstream from the largest dam in the world, the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. Lu says that China is working to solve two different water problems at once.

“Very little water in the north China, and in south China, too much rainfall, and flood – too much water. It’s not balancing. So what we’re doing now is they’ve diverted water in south China to north China – Yangtze River basin to the north China. They’re digging canals, and pump stations to move the water from south China to north China. There are so many problems; the lack of water and the decline of ground water table cause a lot of problems.

In the last century, engineers dug a channel to straighten the Kissimmee River, which flows from the center of the state to the Everglades. But some of its original meandering flow may be restored, which is why Lu, who has background in environmental engineering, is looking forward to participating in a field trip this week.

“I’m interested especially in water restoration. So I’m really excited to visiting the Kissimmee River, because they are doing research in that area.”

Another student, Vladamir Moya is from La Paz, Bolivia. During the last decade, some communities in Bolivia, most notably Cochabamba, rebelled against the privatization of water resources. Now, municipal governments or cooperatives control most of the water, Moya says.

“I mean, water is like something that does not belong to only one person.”

Moya says he wants to take what he learns from the UNESCO-IHE program and put it into practice in Bolivia.

“First I would like to introduce the new tools and new trends in the water management so we can improve a lot and to optimize time and cost for new decisions.”

The students were introduced to Tampa Bay Water and Swiftmud officials and learned that the most controversial local water issue is how often residents can water their lawns with drinking water. Moya says that Floridians who worry about their lawns should be more aware of water shortages around the world.

“Here, people [are] not conscious about the lack of water in other places. Where fortunately here they have a lot of water, but I think they should be conscious – maybe in some years, there should not be this availability of water. Water is very important for life.”

Philip Padi who helps to deliver clean drinking water to rural areas in Ghana, is even more critical of using potable water on lawns – especially considering the availability of reclaimed water.

“My personal view – I wouldn’t encourage that. Because, one, it takes a lot of money to treat the water. And using that water [on a] lawn – that’s a waste.”

The students are spending Monday and Tuesday in the Tampa Bay area, visiting the region’s seawater desalination plant, a wastewater recycling system in Pinellas County, and the Florida Aquarium. They will also tour the Everglades and the South Florida Water Management District headquarters in West Palm Beach before returning to The Netherlands.

UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education

Dr. Kiran C. Patel Center for Global Solutions at USF

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Leave it to the Dutch.

Thanks Sean. Excellent piece. The UNESCO site referenced also has lots of good information. It figures that the Institute for Water Education is located in NL. When it comes to water (and wind) management the Dutch are Masters.