Dishing Out Water Awards & Water Brickbats
Dr James Barnard, internationally known for his innovations in sustainable, non-polluting water treatments, will accept the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize during Singapore International Water Week in July. And the experts say – on World Water Day - that the world’s urban water problems can be solved within a decade, with good governance, with the knowledge, technology and investment resources that we now have. The fact that we will likely not do so is a damning indictment of the way utilities are run, the lack of political will to consider water as an important public policy issue and the apathy of the public, which has become used to third-grade service.
By Jenny Marusiak in Eco business .com (17 March 2011):
Dr James Barnard, internationally known for his innovations in sustainable, non-polluting water treatments, will accept the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize during Singapore International Water Week in July.
Water treatment inventor Dr James Barnard today became the fourth winner of Singapore’s prestigious Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize.
He was recognised for his role in revolutionising the water treatment industry over the past 40 years through the application of natural, eco-friendly methods of treating wastewater.
Dr Barnard is currently a Global Practice and Technology Leader for Black & Veatch’s Global Water Business. Black & Veatch is a global engineering, consulting and construction company headquartered in the United States and is listed among the Fortune 500’s largest private companies.
His innovation, called Biological Nutrient Removal (BNR), is an environmentally-friendly technology that naturally removes nitrogen and phosphorous from waste water. The resulting water is safer for recycling and discharge into lakes and rivers. Left untreated, nitrogen and phosphorous promote uncontrolled algae growth and deteriorating water quality.
The technology replaced conventional chemical treatments which were costlier and more damaging to the environment. Treatment plants have saved significant amounts on operating costs by eliminating those chemicals. Dr Barnard previously estimated that a single plant in Washington D.C. could save more than $11.5 million annually in chemical costs by converting to BNR technology.
In addition to reduced chemical inputs in the water treatment process, there are significant benefits to BNR by-products.
According to a statement from Black & Veatch, harvesting the high concentrations of phosphorous that result from the BNR process could have a significant impact on the world’s fertiliser industry. The industry has seen phosphorous prices double in recent years due to dwindling supplies. The United States, the United Kingdom and Japan are all currently developing the technology necessary to recover the phosphorous from the water treatment process.
Bridging the gap: research to application
Dr Barnard’s accomplishments go beyond inventing new technology. He has spent his career, which started in his native South Africa in the 1970’s, adapting the technology to different regions and climates.
The result is widespread implementation of BNR-based processes around the world, including the US, Europe, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. In recent years, the technology has been adopted in developing countries such as China and Brazil.
Tan Gee Paw, Chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize Nominating Committee said, “His relentless pursuit of adaptable solutions to resolve the challenge of water reclamation has led to a highly sustainable technology that protects the quality of precious water resources and the environment.
“It delivers immense benefit to mankind. Bridging the gap between research and industrial application, his technology now forms the basis of all BNR processes in use today in both developed and developing countries.”
Known within the industry as the Father of Biological Nutrient Removal, few individuals have had such a singular impact on the sustainability of the world’s water supply.
President of the International Water Association Glen Daigger said, “Not only have his efforts been instrumental in the development of a technology (BNR) that has become essential to protecting global water resources, through his efforts, Dr Barnard serves as a role model for all water professionals through his generosity, development of people and commitment to continued advancements.”
Commenting on the award, Dr Barnard said he was honoured to be recognised for all the years he spent working in the field. “This is particularly meaningful coming from Singapore which has taken the reclamation of wastewater for potable use to new heights,” he added.
Singapore is internationally recognised for its innovative and extensive water recycling technology. In 2003, the city-state built its first NEWater treatment facility, which uses reverse osmosis to recycle wastewater. Its goal is to expand the NEWater programme to meet half of Singapore’s water needs by 2060, when its water supply agreement with Malaysia ends.
The island’s commitment to advanced sustainable water policies and technologies has led to the establishment of Singapore International Water Week, a global platform for water solutions attended by over 1,500 industry leaders and policy-makers.
In addition to showcasing new technologies and exploring best practises, Singapore International Water Week – to be held from 4 to 8 July this year – celebrates achievements in the water world. The highlight of this is the presentation of the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize, a high-profile international award to recognise outstanding contributions in solving global water issues.
Dr Barnard, who was chosen from among 72 nominees from 29 different countries, will receive his award from Singapore’s first Prime Minister and present Minister Mentor, Lee Kuan Yew during the event.
The winner of the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize receives a cash prize of S$300,000 provided by the Singapore Millennium Foundation, a philanthropic body supported by Temasek Holdings.
Running out of time to deal with water challenges?
Asit K. Biswas & Leong Ching in Jakarta Globe & Straits Times (22 arch 2011):
The theme of this year’s World Water Day is the current challenges facing urban water management.
We are often told the world is running out of clean water. One billion people lack access to safe drinking water. By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will face water stress, and the situation will become worse by 2050. Even worse, less than 1 per cent of the world’s water is usable.
But these are red herrings.
First, the world, as an elementary physical fact, cannot run out of water. Water, unlike coal, wood or fossil fuels such as oil, is a renewable resource. With good management practices, water can be used, treated and reused, and this cycle can continue many, many times.
Second, while it is true that there are many who face hardship in getting water, the notion of water stress has no scientific basis. Some international institutions have decided arbitrarily that a region becomes water stressed when per capita water availability falls below 1,700 cubic meters (cu m) per year. Others use 1,000 cu m per year. The two figures differ by 70 per cent. Yet there are countries that have half this amount, and feel no water stress because of good management practices.
Third, which follows from the first two points, there has to be a fresh approach to water management that divorces itself completely from conventional thinking, voodoo science, universal panaceas and false paradigms. Instead, each situation should be analyzed with common sense and “can do” attitudes.
The Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority is a fine example of this fresh approach. The PPWSA is in the capital city of Cambodia, a relatively poor country that still relies on foreign aid for more than half of its government spending.
Yet because of the work of the water authority, people can drink straight from the tap in Phnom Penh. Its water meets World Health Organization drinking water standards.
There is universal access and, more astonishingly, not more than six drops are lost out of every 100 through the pipes. In contrast, a private sector organization such as Thames Water in the UK loses up to 25 per cent of its water because of losses and leaks through pipes.
PPWSA has been able to do this because it has successfully tackled the three paradoxes dogging most urban water reforms.
The first paradox is: Do we price water as an economic good to provide the necessary incentives to use water well, as well as give water for free as a matter of equity to the poor? From the start, PPWSA decided it needed to price water to reflect its value and to control its use. So PPWSA bit the bullet and charged a volumetric price for water. The very poor were not exempt – they received a bill but if they could not pay, their supply was not cut off.
The second paradox, which applies especially to countries that rely on loans from outside agencies, is this: Do we put in place a system of rigid rules and regulations to ensure accountability or do we allow personal discretion? The PPWSA shows that the two are not always in conflict. Water collectors for PPWSA are paid much higher than others in the public sector. A large part of their pay is tied to collection rate bonuses, especially for 100 per cent collections. But it was nearly impossible for the collectors to get 100 per cent of the bills.
What the collectors did was to pay the last few bills themselves as the bonus they would get would be higher than the bills. PPWSA knew this, but it did not hold the water meter readers to a strict accounting, especially since the outstanding bills were often from the very poor.
The third paradox is this: Do we work with a strong charismatic leader, or do we have a system to turn out leaders of a certain sort? PPWSA has become almost synonymous with the name of Ek Sonn Chan, 61, who has led the authority since 1993. He has been credited with eradicating corruption, improving governance and providing transparent and generous compensation.
But within the organization, Ek has already found two or three people ready to succeed him. The lesson is not that of victory in the face of despair, nor overcoming of insurmountable odds – although both are true. The learning lies in the fresh-eyed and practical approach taken to solve an urgent problem. Phnom Penh is a pocket of success and good governance in a country like Cambodia, which in 2009 ranked No. 158 in the world corruption perception index of Transparency International.
The world’s urban water problems can be solved within a decade, with good governance, with the knowledge, technology and investment resources that we now have. The fact that we will likely not do so is a damning indictment of the way utilities are run, the lack of political will to consider water as an important public policy issue and the apathy of the public, which has become used to third-grade service.
If Phnom Penh, with its serious constraints, can supply all its residents, both rich and poor, with clean and drinkable water 24 hours a day, there is no reason other major urban centers in the developing world cannot do the same.
Asit K. Biswas is distinguished visiting professor and Leong Ching is a PhD candidate at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, NUS.