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Water expert advocates new calculus of resource mapping

From a planning perspective, the average rainfall data, weather conditions and temperature cannot be relied upon as a bedrock of policy to the same degree as in the past. Planning now has to account for the climate change-induced variables and adapt to extreme weather events, says chief of global collective of water professionals

January 23, 2023 07:48 pm | Updated January 26, 2023 10:11 am IST - PUDUCHERRY

Tom Mollenkopf, president of The International Water Association, speaking at a session on Industries and Water Reuse, organised by CII in Puducherry.

Tom Mollenkopf, president of The International Water Association, speaking at a session on Industries and Water Reuse, organised by CII in Puducherry. | Photo Credit: S.S. KUMAR

Water management planning needs to look at resource mapping on the basis of a data range instead of going only by the average rainfall estimates as a criteria of availability for a region, according to Tom Mollenkopf, President of the International Water Association (IWA), a global collective of water professionals.

“A water management plan that relies on average estimation of resource availability can not only be inherently problematic due to temporal and spatial variations in access to water, but the disconnect between data and ground reality can also get even more pronounced due to newer and volatile variables associated with climate change events”, Mr. Mollenkopf told The Hindu on the sidelines of a forum hosted by Confederation of Indian Industry (CII-Puducherry).

From a planning perspective, the average rainfall data that is derived as a mean of historic data, weather conditions and temperature cannot be relied upon as a bedrock of policy to the same degree as in the past. While rainfall has always had a high degree of variability and volatility and yearly precipitation can be distributed very unevenly over time and geographically, planning now have to account for the climate change-induced variables and adapt to extreme weather events, said Mr. Mollenkopf, who assumed charge at the IWA helm in 2021.

“We need to look at regional, temporal and time-based water scarcity, not just the average for an entire country. And, the other thing about climate change is that even where we have reliable data for the past, we cannot depend on that index of resource availability going forward”, Mr. Mollenkopf said. “It is a bit like your investment advisor’s disclaimer.... that past indicators are not a promise of future performance”.

Addressing the CII session on ‘Industries and Water Reuse-Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Change’, Mr. Mollenkopf pointed out that a couple of years ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had shared a shocking report on the water and environment situation in the world and called for pan-global, immediate and dramatic action to rein in global warming to 1.5% levels over the next couple of decades.

As someone passionate about the central role played by water and sanitation in the social, environmental, and economic well-being of society, Mr. Mollenkopf has been a staunch advocate of constructive engagement and evidence-based decision-making as the foundation of sustainable water policy. He believes that as much as a highly energy-intensive technology like desalination is integral to the mix of solutions, and inevitable for some resource-scarce settings, intelligent water reuse offered the best means to harvest embedded energy of waste water. Exciting developments in efficient harvesting of waste water ranged from calibrating by differential degrees treatment of the resource according to the intended purpose of reuse, improved extraction of embedded energy of wastewater and better filtration techniques in desalination technology, he said.

The IWA chief suggested a portfolio approach to sustainable water management at the level of industries and communities and a mix of regionally-appropriate interventions. He also called for tapping into alternatives to groundwater/freshwater resources through rainwater harvesting and exploring the concept of ‘sponge cities’ that check the flow of storm water run-off as a means of resource retention and aquifer recharge.

S. Mohan, Vice Chancellor, Puducherry Technological University, S. Sureender, CII-Puducherry chairman, and A. Joseph Rozario, vice chairman also spoke. Kandarp Shivpuri, counsellor, CII-Triveni Water Institute, who joined the session virtually, gave an overview of the institution’s agenda framework.

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