Following is a guest post from Cameron Brooks, an executive in IBM’s Big Green Innovations group:
I just returned from the annual meeting of the Western Governors’ Association in Park City, Utah. This 3-day meeting, hosted by Governor Huntsman of Utah, included the governors of nine western states and the premiers of three Canadian provinces. They have a tough set of issues to tackle, including the growing and pervasive problem of managing climate change and the environment. These issues are especially urgent for this group as the west is on the frontline of the battle against the environmental impacts of climate change. Quite literally, this region is running out of water and experiencing an increasing number of wildfires, coastal flooding and droughts.
But rather than meeting to commiserate, the governors are rallying experts from the federal government, industry and academia to face the challenges head on. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff are just a few of the many thought leaders and luminaries who were at the conference, discussing what can be done to understand and rectify the ever-growing environmental crisis.
Addressing environmental challenges will require public-private partnerships. Consider water, a poorly understood and often wasted and mismanaged resource. Our global agriculture system wastes an estimated 60% of the 2,500 trillion liters it uses each year. Municipalities lose as much as 50% of their water supply through leaky infrastructure. And there are nearly 53,000 different water agencies in the U.S. alone, each managing a short stretch of river or a handful of reservoirs. Despite the fact that water is a shared resource, there’s no coordination of data among these agencies and no holistic view of the entire water ecosystem, or its impact of human activity. I was on a panel that focused on “Managing Water in a Changing World” along with other experts who discussed lessons learned from water challenges in Australia and Israel. As the sole representative of private sector on any of the panels, my comments highlighted the fact that technology companies like IBM are creating innovative solutions and are ready to help solve these challenges. What is needed is willingness by governments and agencies to adopt new technologies and help sponsor a common framework for information sharing and collaboration around water management.
I was encouraged by the rapt discussions that took place. Already, there are numerous examples around the world of how partnerships and information technology can be effective in bringing about smart solutions to better manage our water systems. Several of the governors expressed willingness to get down to business and implement solutions to address the water stress in the west. I’m also seeing more connections being made between both public and private organizations, with the potential for these collaborations to yield the needed change. It’s this kind of thinking that will drive new ways of making better use of, and protecting, the valuable resources we are so fortunate to already have.
Cameron Brooks is the director of solutions & business development for IBM’s Big Green Innovations group.
Editor’s note. For a few other interesting water-related posts following the Western Governors’ Association, read: