Joanna Hughes :
While most of us may not think twice about the water we drink every day, 2.1 billion people across the globe live without safe drinking water. Because lack of access to water threatens the health, education and livelihoods of so many, the World Economic Forum designated ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all as one of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Interested in doing your part to help ensure global access to safe water, protect the natural environment, and reduce pollution? We can think of no more fitting occasion to spotlight ways to make a difference in this critical area than today's World Water Day. Read on for a roundup of four fields of study for students looking to add their talents in the fight to solve 21st-century water challenges.
1. Chemical Engineering
Think these challenges are limited to third world countries? Think again. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan in the US created a massive public health crisis, and may be just a sign of things to come. According to an annual report on the water industry from Black & Veatch, "Water scarcity challenges in the Western U.S., flooding in the Northeast, and aging infrastructure across the country are just some of the key causes of rising pressure on U.S. water utilities."
Enter chemical engineers. Says the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, "Although not a traditional career route for chemical engineers, the water industry is a broad field that can offer both challenges and rewards. ChemEs who pursue this path could work in industrial water treatment facilities, public utilities, specialized water consulting firms, or microbial control groups, among many other options."
2. Corporate Social Responsibility
According to Nate Maguire, Director of Americas Business Unit at global water technology provider Xylem, "Companies have realized that they need to start thinking about water as a resource. If the water supply were cut off, it would have a profound impact on their business."
However, water isn't just pertinent from a business continuity perspective, but also when viewed through the increasingly paramount lens of corporate social responsibility (CSR), defined by the The United Nations Industrial Development Organization as "a management concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and interactions with their stakeholders."
Proposes ADEC Innovations of the intersection of corporate social responsibility and water management, "As the world embraces the importance of environmental sustainability, organizations must place a greater emphasis on addressing the global water crisis, and minimizing impact to themselves and the planet."
Comprising topics including business, public health, ethics, marketing, environmental studies, ecology and communication, CSR contain a number of components when applied to water and sanitation, including environmental protection, human rights, health promotion, education development, and human disaster relief.
3. Water Resources and Environmental Management
Water resources and environmental issues are vast and complex. Giving rising worldwide issues related to both, studies in this area offer an enhanced understanding of the challenges ahead-along with the skills to tackle them. From flood prediction and drought monitoring to groundwater recharge and climate science, studies in this multidisciplinary area will prepare graduates to take on leadership roles in water resources and environmental management.
And there's plenty of room for innovation, too. Continues Maguire, "There is a lot of development in the smart-product field.
We are putting software into products so that they can communicate with the user through a server on the cloud. So, for example, a pump could alert the user to an error or to dangerous conditions. Many of our customers can do things they couldn't do before-enabled by smart technology."
4. Water Education and Communication
The American Water Works Association (AWWA) has identified five critical issues facing the water industry. Of these, two pertain directly to communication and education: 1. public understanding of the value of water systems and services and 2. Public understanding of the value of water resources.
"Utility leaders often face a difficult communication challenge as they explain their systems' needs, the associated costs, and the way these costs are balanced equitably through rate structures and financing plans. If the general public is unaware of the value of water systems and the cost of maintaining them, public officials may be less willing to support necessary investments - and associated rate increases - for fear of losing constituent support," explains AWWA. Professionals with the knowledge and skills to help bridge this gap can play an invaluable role in reinforcing vital messages pertaining to water, sanitation, and sustainability.
Perhaps the best part of pursuing studies in this area? You stand to get back as much-or more! -- as you give. "Most people want to have a career where they are doing something meaningful. They want to know they are part of a company that's actually doing something of value for the community that they live in, for their customers and constituents. For most water businesses, that's absolutely true," concludes Maguire.
(Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family).