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Point of View: Once a Third World issue, water now a First World concern

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Randall Kolar
Randall Kolar

World Water Day — March 22 — is recognized each March by the United Nations to highlight the importance of safe drinking water and advocate for sustainable management of freshwater resources. While many associate water issues with impoverished international regions, water challenges can be seen throughout our nation — the flooding devastation in Nebraska is a heartbreaking example — and even here in Oklahoma.

Most of our state’s water comes from man-made reservoirs, which were constructed for flood control, recreation, hydropower or water supply purposes. Also, central Oklahomans depend on expensively piping water in from lakes in the southeast corner of the state. Yet these solutions may not be enough; it is projected by the year 2060, central Oklahoma’s water demand will more than double while our freshwater supply will remain unchanged, if not decrease due to climate change and abnormal variations in rainfall.

How will we meet the challenge of increasing demand? What technologies are emerging to address projected water supply issues? What is Oklahoma’s role in sustaining the nation’s water supply? The University of Oklahoma, the Gallogly College of Engineering and the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences have teamed to address these questions and discover solutions through a new graduate program in hydrology and water security. Launched in 2018, the program addresses scarcity, quality, management and reuse — challenges that affect our state and our neighbors. In the first year, the program has met enrollment projections, a sign that professionals recognize water challenges as one of the top crises for our planet and demands an urgency to develop solutions.

Sharing knowledge is another critical step in holistic solutions to any water crisis. The program collaborates with the OU WaTER Center and the Oklahoma Water Survey, which are led by OU professors David Sabatini and Jason Vogel, respectively. We also team with the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, the Conservation Commission and other state agencies to keep these challenges at the forefront of our research, service and educational activities.

As our state’s new leadership considers ways to make government more effective, efficient and promote growth, the importance of water should remain at the forefront. There are things we can do on an individual level, but the bigger solution to an impending water crisis in our own state is going to require innovative policy decisions and investment in water infrastructure. Everyone needs water, and no matter what continent we call home, we must work together to preserve this precious resource.

Kolar is David Ross Boyd Professor and Director of the OU School of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science, associate director of the OU WaTER Center and a licensed professional engineer.

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