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Expect the unexpected in water, other endeavors

By: Jack Flobeck
September 9, 2013 Updated: September 9, 2013 at 9:30 am
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Just as we were recovering from learning that our Colorado River had been selected by the American Rivers organization as "The most endangered river in the United States;" some unexpected good news surfaced, signaling positive progress in water engineering and water saving across the world.

First, there was encouragement from the 2013 Stockholm World Water Meeting, detailing many small innovations like improved latrines, better drip irrigation, more efficient "Bush Pumps," as well as the usual unanimity of the 'have not' nations encouraging the 'have' nations to share and collaborate to conserve more water.

One recent development, our favorite, which we have personally encouraged and promoted for years, has been introduced by a combine of Welsh engineering students and African promoters. It is the water bike.

African women in some countries spend a majority of their days and lives traveling to water and carrying it back on their heads to their villages. The water bike is a tricycle with a large water purifier, filter tank over the rear wheels, powered by the bike chain and pedals. A man can now do the work of a dozen women, by riding the bike to a well or stream, filling the tank, and while driving back to his village, purifying all the water in the tank. Imagine. safer, cleaner water, delivered faster, using a tenth of the time and energy.

Meanwhile on a more local scene, an El Paso, Texas, husband/wife team, has secured major funding to produce and market their product, "mWater," to developing countries facing major water quality and water disease challenges. In the first year of use in Mwanza, the NASA-based technology has seen more than 1,000 users downloading data on several thousand water sources; along the way, discovering that more than 90 percent of surveyed shallow wells, contained fecal contamination.

The product is a very simple app that allows mobile phone users to photograph, record data, and share bacteria counts in water. African nations are very enthusiastic about the possibilities of this small simple solution aiding in the war on diarrheal diseases which kill more than 1.5 million people each year, and is the leading cause of death in children.

Even closer to home, we learned of a Fort Collins firm that has engineered a system to treat formerly useless waste or brackish water to permit its use to augment the water needed in both 'fracking' and drilling of new oil and gas wells.

Stewart Environmental Consultants incorporates ceramic micro filters and nano-membrane technology to remove polyvalents from ground water. They locate their processing units on skids near the subject well and produce water that contains 80 percent less bad stuff that chemists call barium, calcium, iron, sulfur oxides, and strontium. The possibility that brackish water can become an economical and efficient source to replace 'drinking quality' water in drilling operations; opens many exciting new frontiers for water use and conservation.

At high-tech meetings and seminars we often hear a positive voice for hope in a quote by Peter Schwartz, who wrote in The Art of the Long View:

"The single most frequent failure in the history of forecasting has been grossly underestimating the impact of technologies."

As we have seen with sail, steam, and nuclear; each advancement in our power potential has been exploited through innovation; as humans truly are explorers, inventors, and most importantly dreamers, who keep pushing the intellectual envelope so that in the future we can continue to look forward to "expect the unexpected."


Jack Flobeck is the founder of Aqua Prima Center, a nonprofit think tank for water research. Readers can contact him at

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