Water officials, experts and businesses converged Friday on the Grand Californian Hotel in Anaheim to learn what they can do to be more water-wise.
The occasion was the Orange County Water District's 2012 Water Summit, and the topics ranged from water-stingy fabrics to global warming.
"Essentially, we keep talking about the same things with water: where the problems are, how do we address them, how do we get people together?" said OCWD District 6 Director Cathy Green. "That's pretty much what the genesis of all of this is. What we're trying to do is -- all the people who are involved in water, business in particular -- to realize all the challenges they have, and see if we can get together and come up with a solution."
The highlight of the early morning sessions was a presentation by Nobel Laureate and renowned climate change expert Dr. Michael Mann, who provided a historical perspective on climate change and how it could ultimately affect water levels and the environment as a whole if left unchecked.
Mann also discussed how the biggest obstacle to reversing climate change is often human rather than environmental, whether it's the resistance of the masses to change their everyday practices, or scientists who'd rather swim upstream for the sake of notoriety than deal with the science at hand.
"We can't downplay the importance of what has been an extremely well-organized, well-funded disinformation effort that has been financed by fossil-fuel industry groups, front groups who advocate for their interests to cloud the public discourse on this issue," Mann said. "Some of the attacks against the science are actually thinly veiled attacks against the scientists who are just like me out there doing research. They use words like 'hysteria' and 'fraud' and try to paint this picture of climate scientists as being part of some sort of conspiracy to take away their liberty to emit CO2 into the atmosphere. I don't think real people worry about that."
As for those real people, Mann said, finding solutions to climate change is often a matter of doing the things they know they should be doing every day to help the environment, but on a large-scale basis, which often takes some sort of outside influence.
"There are things we all know we ought to be doing," Mann said. "They're all the things we ought to be doing anyway because they're good for the environment, they're good for our health and they're good for our personal economies. But the sad fact is that we often need to be prodded. There are so many challenges in our lives, and it's easy to sort of shove these things aside as this long-term problem that's way off in the future. That's where it become essential that policy-makers help us establish incentives."
The summit also featured a presentation called "Building a Better Mouse Trap," during which a panel of speakers from the business community shared their best practices for conserving water. Peter Silva of IBM's Project Green discussed the use of using specialized new water meters to create a system that does for water conservation what "smart-grid" technology has done for energy conservation.
Michael Whaley, senior director of environmental health and safety for Allergan, talked about how his company has taken a common sense approach to water conservation, making a concerted effort to reduce its usage by fixing leaks, reusing water, and simply monitoring water usage behavior by its employees. The company was able to hit its water-usage reduction goals across the board, reducing usage by as much as 54 percent over the course of the last four years at its facility in Ireland.
Ben Edwards, vice president for social activism at Hurley, discussed the company's efforts to move away from the use of organic cotton in its T-shirts in favor of new advanced materials that, in addition to performing better, take about 5 percent as much water to make. He also discussed the company's larger global initiatives, which involve distributing water filters to people in need as part of the Hurley's Waves for Water program.
"For us, being surfers, we're of water, so we're for water," Edwards said. "We want to inspire others to be part of that journey with us. We believe it's going to take a holistic effort. The statistics show that one in six do not have access to clean water; we believe five of six can help. We want to encourage that type of activism for people who want to make a difference, and really provide the tools so that they can choose their own adventure as to how deep they want to go, whether it's turning off the faucet when you brush your teeth, or bringing a water filter to Indonesia on your next surf trip."