President Obama’s budget includes almost $260 million to fund a water innovation strategy, which the White House says will boost water sustainability and reduce the price and energy costs of new water supply technology.
It’s a mere drop in the bucket of the president’s $4.1 trillion spending request to Congress for fiscal year 2017. And it’s been largely overshadowed by proposals to tax oil companies and invest more than $2 billion annually on autonomous vehicle development.
But in light of the Flint water crisis and ongoing drought conditions affecting much of the US, it shouldn’t be overlooked, says Ali Zaidi, associate director for natural resources, energy, and science in the Office of Management and Budget. In an interview with Fast Company, Zaidi says the US spends 50 times as much investing in R&D for clean energy as it does R&D for water, and some say that its investments in promising technologies is not at the level it should. “It’s going to take a lot to turn that around,” he says, referring to the water investments.
The president’s water innovation budget, says Pacific Institute president Peter Gleick, is a start. “Until we spend billions of dollars on water-efficiency technology and better water management, until we spend on 21st-century water ideas, in other words, we’re never going to solve our 21st-century water problems,” he tells Fast Company. “In that sense, I do think what the White House is proposing is an effort to shift the way we spend money on water in the right direction.”
The president’s budget would fund water conservation investment and R&D of new water supply technology. This includes:
- $98.6 million for the federal WaterSMART program, which promotes water conservation initiatives and technologies.
- $4 million of new funding for the US Geological Service to provide near real-time assessment of water use during drought, so communities can better manage their water.
- $28.6 million to support R&D at the Bureau of Reclamation. These funds include $8.5 million for the water technology solutions challenge program, a technology challenge prize focused on next-generation water-treatment technologies; $5.8 million for desalination and water purification, and $2 million to continue the Open Water Data, which aims to centralize national water data collected by various agenices and make it more accessible.
- $25 million in new funding for the Department of Energy to launch a new Energy-Water Desalination Hub that will focus on developing technologies to reduce the cost, energy input, and carbon emission levels of desalination. The DOE would also invest nearly $20 million in complementary R&D on desalination technologies relevant to fossil, concentrated solar power, and geothermal applications.
- $15 million in additional funding for US Department of Agriculture research to support agricultural production and practices that conserve water.
- $88 million for the National Science Foundation for water research, focusing on technologies that increase the US water supply, drinking water quality, and water for use in agriculture and industry processes or cooling.
The President’s water innovation budget follows a water strategy, announced by the White House in December, which calls on businesses and industries to conserve water and boost the use of water-efficient and reuse technologies. At the time, the White House said by using better water management practices and technology, the US can reduce its water usage by 33 percent, bringing it closer in line with other industrialized nations, and reduce total CO2 emissions by about 1.5 percent annually.
The water strategy also calls on the private sector to promote and invest in research and development that will reduce new water supply technology’s cost by four times, electricity usage by three times and emissions by two times to achieve “pipe parity” — meaning costs equal to those from current processes for delivering fresh water — in the next decade. To this end, the White House hosted a roundtable with business and public leaders in December and has a larger summit planned for March.
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