printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Water and Power Hearing on Domestic and Global Water Supply Issues


Testimony
Dr. Aaron Salzberg, Special Coordinator for Water Resources
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power Hearing on Domestic and Global Water Supply Issues
Washington, DC
December 8, 2011

Share

View Video» (Please note that Dr. Aaron Salzberg'rs remarks begin at 47minutes, 20 seconds)

Thank you, Madam Chair, Senator Bingaman. I, too, appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today.
As Secretary Clinton has noted, perhaps no two issues are more important to human health, economic growth, and peace and security than access to basic sanitation and sustainable supplies of water. Yet as you pointed out, today over 884 million people lack access to safe drinking water and over 2.5 billion people lack access to basic sanitation. Each day, nearly 4,000 people, mostly children under five, die from preventable diarrheal diseases caused by contaminated water. Not surprisingly, women and girls are most affected.
In addition to the health impacts, water will affect our ability to protect the environment, achieve food and energy security, and respond to climate change. Competition for water and the lack of access to basic water and sanitation services may become a source of conflict and a contributing factor to state fragility and failure.
And while these statistics are grim, there is hope. In most places, there is enough water to meet demand. What's lacking is a commitment to sound water resources management and to meeting the basic water and sanitation needs of the people.
To address these challenges, the United States is working internationally to help countries achieve water security. This means ensuring that people have reliable and sustainable access to the water they need, when they need it, where they need it, while reducing the risks from extreme hydrological events.
To achieve this goal, the United States is working to increase access to safe drinking water and sanitation, improve water resources management, and mitigate the tensions associated with shared waters.
Last year, Secretary Clinton outlined five primary areas of action for our work on water. First, to build and strengthen institutional and human capacity at the local and national and regional levels, countries and communities must take the lead in securing their own water future. We need to help build their capacity so they can do so.
Second, increase and better coordinate our diplomatic efforts. We need to work to raise international awareness, to encourage developing countries to prioritize water and sanitation in national plans and budgets, and to integrate water into global food security, health, and climate change initiatives.
Third, mobilize financial support. This is going to require resources. In many cases, there is capital within developing countries. We need to work to mobilize these resources towards water and sanitation infrastructure by strengthening local capital markets, providing credit enhancements, and exploring other avenues for support.
Fourth, promote science and technology. Madam Chair, you're right. There is no silver bullet. That said, science and technology can have a huge impact. We need to work hard to incentivize the development of technologies that can make a difference in scale and to share U.S. experience and knowledge with the rest of the world.
And finally, fifth, build and sustain partnerships. We, the U.S. government, we cannot solve this problem alone. As you've already heard, there's a great deal of knowledge and experience that lies within the U.S. technical agencies, the private sector, U.S.-based nonprofit community. We need a whole-of-government, a whole-of- America approach and stronger partnerships with the nongovernmental community.
I'll stop here, but I'll leave you with a quote from Secretary Clinton. She said, "It's not every day that you find an issue where effective diplomacy and development will allow you to save millions of lives, feed the hungry, empower women, advance our national security interests, protect the environment, and demonstrate to billions of people that the United States cares about you and your welfare. Water is that issue."
We look forward to continuing our work with the members of this subcommittee, USAID, other government agencies, and interested stakeholders to improve water resources management and to get safe water and basic sanitation to billions of people who are currently without.
Madam Chair, with your permission, I'd like to submit my full remarks for the record and thank you again for the opportunity to testify on behalf of the Department of State.

Begin excerpts of Q & A:

SENATOR BINGAMAN:
Well, thank you all for your testimony.
I guess each of us approaches this problem based on our own -- where we're from and our own experience. The state I represent is an arid state, New Mexico, and in our state I believe I'm right that the -- by far the largest use of water is agriculture, and, accordingly, the largest opportunity for reducing water-use is agriculture.
And it strikes me that all of the things you're talking about are useful, but we do not do enough to assist and incentivize and require that agriculture be more sensitive to water-use and -- and waste in this country.
I don't know if any of you have views on that, but I don't know the extent to which the Department of Agriculture has focused on -- on this as a priority in their work with farmers who are dependent upon large amounts of water for the crops they grow.
Particularly, this is an issue in my state because the water that is being used by agriculture in many cases is groundwater. And it is being depleted and we are not going to have it 10, 20, 30 years from now to use.
So, if any of you have comments on that, Ms. Castle, maybe you'd want to start. Give any thoughts you have on that.
MS. CASTLE:
Senator Bingaman, the -- the way in which the Bureau of Reclamation gets involved in agricultural efficiencies is primarily in the delivery systems. I mentioned to Senator Shaheen the kinds of projects where we're facilitating -- the lining or enclosure of formerly unlined canals.
We also provide WaterSmart grant funding for automation of delivery systems to avoid spills and over-deliveries, and again cutting down on the need for diversions. We do less in the area of actual consumptive use by crops.
It's my understanding that the Department of Agriculture and the Natural Resource Conservation Service does quite a bit of work in that area and provides information on best practices with respect to drip irrigation systems and control technologies that allow testing of the soil moisture, so that you're not over-applying the irrigation water supply.
I know less about that area, though.
SENATOR BINGAMAN:
Mr. Salzberg, did you want to make a comment?
DR. SALZBERG:
Sure. Just quickly, Senator.
You know, you're exactly right. This is certainly one of the most pressing issues that we face internationally. Many developing countries dedicate well over 70 percent of their water for irrigation purposes. In fact, I was looking at one country this morning where over 99 percent of its water goes for agricultural purposes -- an almost impossible figure.
And -- and so any gains that we can make in that sector is -- is important to our being able to use water for other purposes in those countries. And so there's -- there's no question to our trying to focus on moving a country away from flood irrigation towards those technologies, like drip irrigation, that can minimize the water applied to the crops; land management practices that can remain moisture, both on the field, but also in adjacent areas; that can (inaudible) offer long-term support in drought protection.
Low water-consuming crops and crops that can grow on brackish water are things that we need to be thinking about and management and, of course, management and policy changes that incentivize sound water use. So, even the pricing of water, in some cases, establishing water-user groups that can help ensure that farmers understand these things are -- do -- do have a cost to them and that they need to be managing them wisely. This is a critically important area for us to work on.
SENATOR SHAHEEN:
Mr. Salzberg, you mentioned the impact globally of water use on women, in particular. It's something that I hadn't really thought about until I started going through the briefing for this hearing and recognizing that empowering women and girls in other countries around the world has been very important to stability and economic prosperity.
Can you talk about what -- what the impact of water scarcity is on women and girls? And, if -- if it's not addressed, what the prospects are for the future?
DR. SALZBERG:
It's a very important question, of course. You know, we see in some places -- if you look in sub-Saharan Africa, there are some women that spend six hours a day collecting the water for their families. And so you can imagine that they have to forego other economic-generating opportunities, other things that they might be doing for the family and for the community.
At the same time, the lack of safe water and -- and, in particular, sanitation, in schools, is -- is a reason why girls when they reach a certain age become very uncomfortable in attending some of these schools and is accountable for some of the dropping out that we see in many schools internationally. So this is important for a whole bunch of reasons.
Women are also responsible, of course, often for taking care of members of the family who are sick or ill. Diarrheal disease being the leading illness among children, being a main reason for women having to stay home and, again, not being able to engage in other economic opportunities. So it really does affect women and girls of -- of all levels of development.
SENATOR SHAHEEN:
And as we're looking at the effects of climate change, particularly in Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, but seeing some of those effects here, are there ways that we're looking at planning for the water effects of climate change globally? And is that -- have there been discussions about this in Durban this week that you're been following?
DR. SALZBERG:
I'll start with the last question first. And yes, water is a subject that's certainly being discussed out in Durban. And -- and I know that there's many events on the margins of -- of the major meetings talking about these kinds of issues.
You know, first is collecting data. It's just trying to get an understanding of the resources that we have and -- and how they'll be impacted by some of these changes. Ms. Castle pointed out to a number of activities that we're doing domestically, same exact kinds of things that we need to be doing internationally.
We then need to translate that data into some sort of usable form for consumers. We need to generate information that will be meaningful to our consumers, and that means both those people who can help generate some of the -- the solutions to these challenges, but also those people who'll be most impacted by these kinds of challenges. So we have -- it's a data management issue there.
And then from an action standpoint, we really do need to focus our work on -- on building flexible structures, in other words, infrastructure that can be altered and respond and adapt to changing conditions over time; flexibility institutions...
SHAHEEN:
Like, give me an example.
SALZBERG:
When we start thinking about dams, large-scale infrastructure, how do we ensure that we can operate those under a wide range of different conditions? If we know that we have glaciers upstream that will be melting, and so it will be changing the timing of seasonal flows down a particular river, then how do we ensure that we've got infrastructure that will be able to change and manage those changes over the next 30, 100 years? Because that's how long we hope that this infrastructure will be in service for. So, it's -- it's a large, large issue in many places throughout the world.
How do we build flexible institutions and flexible contractual agreements and legal agreements? When you look across the world, when you have legal agreements that are based on country X gets this amount of water, country Y gets this amount of water, if the amount of water is going to be changing over time, you can imagine it's going to be very difficult to -- to enforce those types of agreements?
So we need to build very robust institutions that allow the countries to work together to -- on an annual, five-year, 10-year, whatever is appropriate basis to reevaluate the data and to re- optimize the management of shared resources for the benefit of all the people within the basin.
And so the -- the key, really, is going to be building in flexibility into many of the institutions and arrangements that we have.
________________________________________
List of Panel Members and Witnesses

MEMBERS:
SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN, D-N.H. CHAIRWOMAN
SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW, D-MICH.
SEN. TIM JOHNSON, D-S.D.
SEN. MARIA CANTWELL, D-WASH.
SEN. RON WYDEN, D-ORE.
SEN. JOE MANCHIN III, D-W.VA.
SEN. JEFF BINGAMAN, D-N.M. EX OFFICIO
SEN. BERNARD SANDERS, I-VT.
SEN. MIKE LEE, R-UTAH RANKING MEMBER
SEN. BOB CORKER, R-TENN.
SEN. JOHN HOEVEN, R-N.D.
SEN. DAN COATS, R-IND.
SEN. JIM RISCH, R-IDAHO
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI, R-ALASKA EX OFFICIO

WITNESSES:
ANNE CASTLE, ASSISTANT INTERIOR SECRETARY FOR WATER AND SCIENCE
L. JERRY HANSEN, PRINCIPAL DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF THE ARMY FOR INSTALLATIONS, ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT
AARON SALZBERG, SPECIAL COORDINATOR FOR WATER RESOURCES, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
PETER GLEICK, PRESIDENT AND COFOUNDER, THE PACIFIC INSTITUTE
TONY WILLARDSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WESTERN STATES WATER COUNCIL
THOMAS STANLEY, CHIEF TECHNOLOGY OFFICER, GENERAL ELECTRIC WATER
MELISSA MEEKER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, SOUTH FLORIDA WATER MANAGEMENT DISTRICT
HARRY STEWART, DIRECTOR, NEW HAMPSHIRE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL SERVICES, WATER DIVISION



Back to Top
Sign-in

Do you already have an account on one of these sites? Click the logo to sign in and create your own customized State Department page. Want to learn more? Check out our FAQ!

OpenID is a service that allows you to sign in to many different websites using a single identity. Find out more about OpenID and how to get an OpenID-enabled account.