Water, water everywhere, but..
It’s easy to take water for granted from where we sit, here in the middle the world’s greatest concentration of fresh surface water.
Yet we see headlines daily about drought and its effects on regions around the world, including parts of the United States. Most important, underground sources of water are already under stress around the world. Globally, more than 1 billion people today lack access to clean water and thousands perish daily for lack of it or from waterborne disease.
Yes, Michigan’s relatively secure water resources should be a source of comfort to us, but that can’t give way to complacency. these lakes and rivers are ours to protect and preserve. Water will be Michigan’s greatest natural legacy, and we can’t afford not to get it right. And as it always has, water a affords us a grand opportunity not just for quality of life, but for prosperity in a global knowledge economy.
Last summer I accompanied MSU Institute of Water Sciences Director Joan Rose and an MSU delegation to Singapore, an island nation where water security is taken very seriously. Singapore’s observance of International Water Week, featuring symposia and other activities, is one of just two or three events of its caliber, and last year it attracted approximately 13,500 participants from 99 countries.
There, I signed memoranda of understanding for research and educational partnerships with two local universities and with Singapore’s Public Utilities Board. Alliances such as these will be helpful as MSU grows its $85 million portfolio in water science, technology and policy toward what we view as the critical intersections of water with health, climate and food security.
In so doing, we aim to help lead development of Michigan’s own “blue-green economy,” once again taking the best of Michigan to the world and bringing the best of the world to Michigan.
Michigan State has much to offer in the area of water knowledge, including research into microbial fuel cells, water microbiology and advanced membrane technology. You will read about some of our efforts in the following pages. Closer to home, of course, we’re active on many fronts in the effort to protect and enhance Michigan’s own waterways and Great Lakes, from climate studies to combatting invasive species.
It’s said that water will become a resource as valuable to the world in the new century as oil was in the last. the most enduring value will be gained not by pumping it, but from technologies focused on reclamation, purification and conservation. As our 7 billion global population rises to 9 billion in the next generation or two, people will increasingly live in urban areas and sources of both food and water will need to be as close to those consumers as possible. New technologies for wastewater treatment and green infrastructure will be needed and opportunities will arise to partner with metropolitan areas on many aspects of water resource management.
Many of the world’s critical water sources, including some of the Great Lakes themselves, are shared between nations, so leaders will need counsel, too, on the policy and legal issues affecting the resources on which they depend.
Corporations and nations are preparing for an era when one of the earth’s most abundant resources becomes precious indeed. Singapore, positioning itself as a hub of water knowledge, is host to many technology companies and is securing its water supply through a variety of innovative means.
Michigan, too, has great opportunity not only to preserve its water resources through the application of science, technology and policy, but to become a vital knowledge center for a resource no one can live without.
Lou Anna K. Simon, Ph.D.
President, Michigan State University