Friday, August 12, 2011

Water Project...and Ultrarunning


Image credit The H2O Project.

The other day I ran with the guys at work at lunchtime, and as I exited the gym after my shower, heading back to my desk, I was walking along the sidewalk beside the building on my way to my car.

Suddenly a door burst open in front of me such that I had to stop suddenly, and a workman dumped a full bucket of dirty water into the gutter.  I exclaimed, "That doesn't look good," meaning that I figured he'd had some sort of plumbing disaster.

He looked up and said in a serious voice, evidently thinking that my comment pertained to the water itself, "This water would be considered potable in many countries around the world."

I was quiet, realizing he was right, and also realizing that he wasn't trying to be funny.  He was sort of a blue collar prophet, I suppose.

I just Googled terms like "Water Purification Technologies Third World" and the like and got page after page of hits.  I scanned various sites but came away thinking that this was a still largely-unsolved problem.  Sure, Westerners could waltz in and install some super-duper device, but the key is making the technology appropriate for the site, cheap, dummy-proof, and sustainable.

So...I have a notion that would help billions of people on the planet, and maybe help repair the trashed image of the United States of America.  I'm sure that many others have already had this thought.

Why not a full court press, much like that which resulted in us putting a man on the moon, using the practically unlimited funds that we have been pouring into the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and all those other unnamed places where we spill blood?  The objective of the full court press would be to provide safe water all over the world.  How?: 1) develop an array of appropriate technologies, 2) field the right site-dependent solution, and 3) assist recipients in life cycle sustainment.

I just took a look at the Fiscal Year 2012 Defense Department Budget, which starts on 1 October 2011, and particularly noted all the cool (read "lethal") names that we've given to our biggest military hardware acquisition programs.  I see names like Predator and Reaper ($2.5 B); Ballistic Missile Defense ($10.6 B); AEGIS Ballistic Missile Defense ($1.5 B); Terminal High Altitude Area Defense ($1.2 B); Tactical Tomahawk Cruise Missile ($.3 B); and the Virginia Class Submarine, which outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wanted to torpedo ($4.9 B).

I don't know enough militarily to say whether these particular weapons systems are good, bad, or indifferent; the point is simply that we spend billions of dollars on weapons system acquisition, and I just innocently wonder whether somewhere in the "guns" budget we couldn't find funds for "butter" (or on this case, water).

We could come up with some really cool names. One of the issues is that water pumping and purification takes energy.  Could we not develop some out-of-the-box solution to that problem using solar, wind, or even people power (i.e., the "Merry-Go-Round Powered Pump" or the like)? Or how about "Wind Into Water"?  Or "PureSun"?  Any solution would need to be scalable, meaning it would serve xx people, and to serve more you'd either have to upgrade to the next class of system, or add more modules of your basic system.

I'm not an engineer but if we can put a man on the moon (...oops, well, actually we can't do that anymore; I posted about that here).  But the principles of the best and the brightest engineers and project managers, full court press, copious amounts of development, fielding and sustainment dollars...we've done that before, and we did put a man on the moon.

We could generate literally thousands of new jobs and get some $$ pumping into our economy. 

And we'd be helping the least of these, my brethren.  Rather than soldiers and tanks and Humvees and Strykers and Predator drones invading a country and slaying its people, it'd be a convoy of drilling rigs or trucks of solar panels and windmills and pipes rolling across the landscape.  The result would be clean water supplies and millions of averted deaths.  And at least an attempt to erase our global black eye.

And the obligatory salute to Ultrarunning: we trail runners probably know better than just about any other Americans about how important hydration is.  The vast majority of citizens take the pure water from their taps for granted, and we don't.  In the backcountry, we worry about how much to carry, where we can refill, electrolytes, even the color of our pee. 

We get it. This notion of a full court press to deliver clean water to the third world is right up our alley.


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