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The water challenge

Updated Wednesday, 31st July 2013

Bryan Harvey, Vice President of CH2M HILL, discusses one of the most pressing demands of the world: water.

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Talking to Fiona Ellis-Chadwick, Vice President of CH2M HILL Bryan Harvey discusses why water provision has become such a challenge.


Bryan Harvey and Fiona Ellis-Chadwick were talking after a recording of The Bottom Line.



I’m Bryan Harvey and I work for CH2M Hill and I’m responsible for development of our business around the world in the water sector. CH2M Hill’s a large infrastructure company which operates around the world. We not only work in the water sector but we operate in transport, energy, the environment. So we’ve got a wide range of services that we bring to the marketplace. But obviously at the moment the water challenge is one of the most pressing demands of the world and indeed is a large portion of our business.


Can you tell me a little bit; I’m interested about why water’s become such a challenge. I know that Nestlé has clean water supply as one of its big priorities for the next hundred years. How have we gone from a planet which seems to be abundant in its supply to water having become a scarce resource?


I think the big factor that we’ve got to start with here is there’s only a finite amount of water on this planet, a finite amount of fresh water. An awful lot of it’s tied up in the sea, in the ice caps, water we can’t really use for drinking or for agricultural purposes. So given that finite amount, we’ve then got another big driver of change which is population growth. Population growth is increasing at a dramatic rate every single year. Indeed by 2050 we’re expecting another two billion people to be on the planet. So that’s two billion people’s worth of extra water requirements, water, drinking water, an extra two billion people’s worth of waste water, you know, all of the logistical challenges happen around that.

So that’s one big driver. The second big driver I’d like to mention is that of urbanisation. Now at the moment around half the global population lives in cities. Now again within that same time span, 2050, we’re expecting two thirds of the world’s population to live in cities. So that’s quite a dramatic increase in people moving into the cities, and for industrial purposes, for living standards purposes, there’s a whole variety of reasons for that, but that’s as an extra pressure on the water industry.

Now if you add those two factors, population growth and urbanisation, with the factor of climate change, that starts to bring another dimension to all of this. The uncertainty of climate change, which basically will mean less water available in some areas, more water available in others. But it’s changing the whole dynamic of supply and demand of the water industry. I think that’s the prime reason now why water’s being talked about much more. There’s only a finite amount of it, people are congregating in more dense locations, and there’s physically a lot more people around.


That’s really interesting. So what would you say should be, businesses large and small, what should be their key priorities in terms of water supply for the next fifty years?


Well I think everyone’s first realisation has got to be that everyone’s got to start working much more closely together. We’ve got to bring together the public sector, the private sector and the communities of the world to pull in together all their energy, all their resources, all their money into solving the water challenges. So I think that the extra requirement of people to collaborate is going to be a key driver on business into the future. The second one is in making sure they’ve got flexibility around their water resource, and building that flexibility, because each and every source of water will have a sustainability associated with it.

So companies could take their water from ground water resources, that’s an important traditional resource of water, but that’s becoming stressed, less sustainable into the future. Companies could also start tapping into desalination water supplies or reused water supplies. But I think the important thing for everyone is that they start to consider the longer term and that water indeed is a scarce resource that might fundamentally affect their operating models into the future.


Given these challenges that we face, but there is talk at the moment of using inland waterways much more for transportation, do you see that happening?


Well I think a good example of that was the Olympics recently here in London. With a large portion of the construction material and construction traffic was actually brought in through the waterways, the canals that exist in this area. It’s much more sustainable in terms of the industrial urban areas, a much more sustainable way of getting the materials into the construction sites. So if you take that, that’s one particular use, but the challenge it’s got is that it’s not a very flexible resource. It’s not the same as a lorry or motor vehicles or any other, it’s only one fixed route.

So I think it’s the transport industry has probably got to factor in how you do use that important resource versus use of a motorway or the other. I think it comes back to that flexibility issue again doesn’t it? If people have got multiple ways of getting their product to the market or to a construction site then that creates opportunities for them for efficiency and innovation into the future.


So you think that we may well see more use of waterways where they exist and are practical for a business to make use of them?


I think it’d be an important factor, but I wouldn’t at any point in time rely on it as a sole route. The economics have got to be factored into this, as well as the social side of things, you know, do people really want heavy traffic going upside up and down the canals every day. There’s a social element to that. And also the environment, we’ve got to factor in the environment. What’s the most sustainable environmental way of moving things around?


That’s really really interesting, thank you very much.


You’re welcome.





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