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Leaving No One Behind: 3 Areas Worth Attention

This year’s World Water Day theme highlights the goal of securing water for all.

Growing up on the serene Georgian Bay in Ontario – often referred to as the sixth Great Lake – I can’t imagine life without accessible, clean water. I’ve spent many recreational hours as an avid angler, kayaker and scuba diver on several Great Lakes and many smaller, equally as adored bodies of water – all within living distance. As we know though, not everyone in the world is as fortunate.

2.1 billion people still don’t have access to safe, clean water globally. In parts of Africa, people, mostly women and girls, spend up to six hours every day collecting water. That’s time spent walking and searching for a critical, life-sustaining resource, instead of working or learning, playing or being with loved ones.

Every year on March 22, the United Nations recognizes World Water Day, an international opportunity to learn more about water-related issues and to inspire action to change our water future. This year’s theme of “Leaving No One Behind,” addresses the important challenge of ensuring availability and sustainable management of water for all by 2030 – as the U.N. calls for.

At Jacobs, we’re doing our part to leave no one behind. We’ve created our PlanBeyond strategy which is guided by the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. Through our PlanBeyond program, we are inspired to make a positive environmental, societal and economic difference for businesses, governments and communities around the world – from the way we operate our business, to the work we perform with clients and other organizations. Water is a big part of our PlanBeyond strategy.

To do our part to truly leave no one behind when it comes to water supply, I’d like to steal a message from one of my colleagues at last year’s Singapore International Water Week Water Leaders Summit Insights session – we need to “value water better, manage it better and collaborate to innovate.”

Here’s how we, as a water industry, can all do our part to leave no one behind:

Valuing water holistically

To deliver on the U.N. goals to provide clean water and sanitation for all by 2030, we need to flip the switch. It’s time to make global changes to how we view and manage water before it is too late. By this point, thinking sustainably and implementing resilient, green solutions is nothing new, but as we look toward 2030, we’ll need to push the boundaries and innovate in new ways. And that’s where approaches like One Water and solutions like potable reuse can make an impact.

Exemplifying the advancement of sustainable solutions to some of the largest issues of our time, Jacobs and our clients earned 11 business achievement awards from the Environmental Business Journal and Climate Change Business Journal this year.

Among the awarded projects are a first-of-its-kind sustainable water supply solution for Lee County Utilities that’s blending water from three different sources to increase water supply flexibility and reliability of their treatment plant while reducing operational costs by as much as 60 percent; our partnering with Australian government sectors on a Catchment Carbon Offsets Trial, achieving emissions reductions and providing triple-bottom-line benefits to complement climate change, water, catchment management and biodiversity strategies; and a Shoreline Management Plan providing disaster and climate resilience along coastlines and strengthening the tourism economy in Belize.

To reach everyone with clean, sustainable water by 2030, these types of unconventional sustainable solutions and growing markets, such as desalination and reuse that are focused on renewing our water resources, need to be table stakes. As good quality fresh water supplies grow scarcer and populations surge, let’s think differently when we’re designing water and wastewater infrastructure and processes – using sustainable and green solutions to approach all water as a resource and leaving no water behind.

Managing water smartly

Just as sustainable water management plays a major role in ensuring water for all, digital and smart technologies are being harnessed globally to solve water challenges in ways that weren’t possible a decade ago. For example, advanced Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and real-time analytics – deployed on one utility’s Jacobs-supported pilot – helped identify plumbing issues that would have caused a loss of 4.8 million gallons of water annually, if not fixed.

Additionally, smart sensors are paving the way for early detection of water quality issues, like potential Legionella growth, before they can harm water supplies or public health; and digital twin analytics and technologies are providing unparalleled abilities for water agencies to optimize their infrastructure for the future. Additional technologies like 3-D printing might even play a role in how this infrastructure is constructed and weaved into communities. 

In the last ten years, we’ve seen the advancement of everything from smart watches and genetic engineering to self-driving cars and drones. Just imagine what technology will be able to achieve by 2030. It’s up to us to embrace these technologies and conceive new ones to deliver unprecedented results for smarter water management.

Collaborating to extend impact

While public and private industry can deliver results in much of the world when it comes to water supply, it’s often non-profit organizations embedded in local communities that are making the difference in places where clean water isn’t easily accessible. That’s why at Jacobs, we’re continuing our longstanding collaboration with the non-profit, Water For People.

In our first-ever Jacobs’ Water For People employee giving campaign in 2018, we donated more than $250,000 in support of WFP’s “Everyone, Forever” mission. By applying simple and sustainable water and sanitation technologies, involving and empowering local communities and focusing on health and hygiene education, WFP helps communities break free from the cycle of poverty and spend time growing, learning and thriving, instead of walking long distances for water and children and families fighting off illness.

Their mission of “Everyone, Forever” is truly creating a world where all people have access to safe drinking water and sanitation; a world where no one suffers or dies from a water or sanitation-related disease – a world where no one is left behind.

As an industry, we have the connections, skills and technologies to address the issue of “Leaving No One Behind” directly. By valuing water more holistically, managing it smarter and collaborating to truly drive change, we can engage the public and stakeholders to address concerns and gain acceptance as we utilize technology and innovations to address the world’s water challenges – to deliver safe, accessible water for all.

Peter Nicol currently serves as Global Director of Water at Jacobs and was formerly CH2M’s Global Water Business Group President where he had full profit and loss responsibility for the $1.4 billion global water business, including leading more than 5,000 water professionals, in 175 offices, in more than 50 countries worldwide. Under Peter’s leadership, CH2M solidified its brand as the global market leader in water and wastewater design work, and he continues to lead Jacobs’ industry-leading water efforts. Peter joined CH2M in 1980 after receiving his bachelor of applied science degree in Geological Engineering and Applied Earth Sciences from the University of Toronto.

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