Water Crisis - Learning to value fresh water
from people without enough
(This CARD article ran in the Thursday, September 4, 2014 in the Wimberley View.)
Long before his job was working on regional water plans for Central Texas, engineer Peter Newell was learning the importance of clean water in places where it was already scarce.
Newell, a speaker at the Water Crisis community meeting on Sept. 11 at the Wimberley Community Center, learned to appreciate first-hand the need for clean and plentiful water while a missionary in South and Central America.
"Just that basic human need of a good water supply is so critical," Newell says. "Not only for our health, but for community growth and hope for the future. All of the places I have worked in and experienced, you see how we are connected in that need. Fresh water is a critical resource for all of our communities."
While with the international organization Food for the Hungry, in Bolivia, Newell got interested in water projects and community development and decided to pursue a master's degree in civil engineering.
Now living in Austin with his wife, Lori, and their children Lily, Silas and Joe, Newell works as a Water Resources Engineer for HDR Engineering Inc., where his skills are focused on water supply planning for river authorities, municipalities and utilities throughout Texas. However, he continues his aid work overseas; during his seven years with HDR, Newell has used leaves of absence to join relief efforts in Chad, Indonesia, South Sudan and, most recently, Darfur.
"World Relief had a water and sanitation program and they were working with several large village areas that had dealt with the ravages of war and were beginning to rebuild. (The ongoing violence and humanitarian crisis in Darfur, was preceded by decades of civil war with mass civilian killing and "ethnic cleansing"). They had all of these community assets put in, wells and water systems, and they were training (locals) on how to take over those systems and manage them. I was asked to evaluate their program, their goals and recommend steps that would transition from recovery to development, empowering the people in their community to utilize their resources to maintain, and to facilitate growth as a community."
Civil war has made Darfur a dangerous place, and Newell felt concern while there, but he took comfort in his religious faith and the confidence of those serving there.
"It was a great experience for me. It's an exciting thing to do, it gives me purpose. I enjoy what I do (here) day to day, but I feel so much more alive in those settings, where it's really hands on, it's very relational and (he gives a slight chuckle) there is an element of danger to it."
Not surprisingly, Newell finds Central Texas on a completely different scale – in terms of critical response – from the places he has worked abroad. "Here nobody is struggling for survival because they don't have enough water," he says. But he sees many parallels in learning how to manage water resources.
"We are stewarding this resource for our communities, coming up with ways to make it affordable, ways to make it safe. It involves a lot of partnership. Working with different groups, community leaders, political leaders and regulatory agencies. Here, or in an international setting, those partnerships are critical."
The challenges can be great.
Newell, who co-authored the Water and Wastewater Facilities Plan for Western Hays County, notes that "Central Texas, Hays County in particular, has a unique dynamic; there is a shortage of supply and projected high growth for the area because of bounding municipalities nearby, and the I-35 corridor. So there is always a need for decision makers to consider how we continue to meet the projected water demand.
"That's a challenge. The ground water resources are limited. Surface water resources are limited as well. A number of regional strategies are being looked at and evaluated. People are trying to find a strategy that makes sense to meet this growing demand."
Newell believes that the people of the area, in both large and small communities, will decide the future availability of water in the region.
As a connected resource, "people need to understand their everyday personal water use decisions make an impact in terms of a community's water demand," Newell says. "If these projects are going to happen, how are they going to get funded? People need to understand what would happen if water supply needs aren't met and, how it would impact the economy in an area.
"People have to decide if it's worth it to them and to future generations in this area, because these are long-term projects. They are not necessarily realized within 5-10 years; they may be realized in 20, 30 or 40 years. (It's important) having an eye on that target out there on the horizon, thinking long-term for future generations."
Newell and other experts will talk about the looming Central Texas water shortage, and answer questions on how we can handle it, at the free community meeting:
Water Crisis: Time to Get Serious! The meeting, sponsored by Citizens Alliance for Responsible Development (CARD), begins with a Chat with Experts session, with tips on ways individuals and families can use water wisely.
6-9:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 11
Wimberley Community Center, 14068 Ranch Road 12
Keep up with meeting updates on this website (hayscard.org), and help us get the word out with our poster.
CARD Steering Committee