Teaching the World to Fish

Now that all the fear mongering over arid New Mexico coming for Great Lakes water is subsiding (once again), the timing is ripe in the Midwest for a more optimistic - and opportunistic - conversation about securing the world's increasingly valuable fresh water systems.

That conversation might begin with this undeniable fact: The world's water problem is a huge opportunity for the Great Lakes region. Not, at the moment, a threat, as the newspaper reports and press releases would have us believe.

As clean fresh water grows increasingly scarce and more expensive in places like California, Nevada, and Georgia, the robust supplies flowing through the greater Great Lakes region present an unmatched opportunity to secure existing industries, recruit new water-dependent businesses from drier regions, and promote long-term job retention and growth. That's elementary.

But the economy evermore is organized around knowledge and generating new ideas. So, instead of fretting about building wildly expensive pipelines and pumps to transport water across the countryside, the people of the greater Great Lakes can prosper by pioneering new water management strategies and services that help those with dwindling water resources boost the sustainability of their supplies. That's the 21st century approach.

Water tech’s potential is vast. Water quality and quantity are growing global problems and industry revenues already are estimated at $300 billion worldwide, according to a 2003 report prepared by the Battelle Memorial Institute, a scientific and technological consulting firm based in Columbus, Ohio.

Water supply and wastewater treatment, for example, is a $122 billion global market. The market for improved desalination of seawater, currently estimated at $2 billion annually, is projected to grow to $70 billion by 2020. Irrigation is already a $30 billion annual market, with demand for watersaving systems growing 10 percent each year.

With an entrepreneurial heritage, worldclass research universities, and the largest freshwater ecosystem in the world, the people of America's Great Lakes are uniquely positioned to compete successfully in these new ventures.

But environmental groups, politicians, and the mass media remain fixated on the thirsty westerners and foreigners coming to siphon off the Great Lakes. Not on a forward-looking policy and investment strategy to support the innovation, design, development, manufacture, and delivery of new equipment and management techniques to solve looming water scarcity problems.

As evidence, here's a sample of recent clips stemming from New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson's comments about the plentiful Great Lakes. The stories pump the perception that the Great Lakes are under imminent attack from thirsty hoards, or that the region's water supply is on the verge of being drained away. They sell the fear of exporting Great Lakes water. Not the promising potential to export solutions to the world's water problems.

Hands Off Our Water

Can our Great Lakes water be stolen

Control the spigot while we can