Pacific Institute Insights is the staff blog of the Pacific Institute, one of the world’s leading nonprofit research groups on sustainable and equitable management of natural resources. For more about what we do, click here.

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    Water Managers and Social Media: How to Get Started

    By Paula Luu, Communications Manager

    October 24, 2013

    A few of you have reached out to me after I wrote about why water managers should invest in social media. It looks like I’ve managed to convince a few of you that it’s worthwhile, but now what?

    Here are a few tips and tricks to help you get things off the ground:

    Figure out which social sites to engage on given your customers and goals. …»

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    Why Might Businesses Be Interested in Contributing to Sanitation Efforts?

    By Peter Schulte, Research Associate

    August 9, 2013

    Sanitation is quickly gaining prominence as one of the most important development challenges of the 21st century. This status is well-deserved: 2.5 billion people in the world do not have access to adequate sanitation. Inadequate sanitation is known to cause chronic health and nutrition problems, prevent children (especially girls) from receiving education, and contribute to water quality/access challenges and ecological degradation. Children living in households with no toilet are twice as likely to get diarrhea as those with a toilet. In the Global South, around 90% of sewage is discharged untreated into rivers, polluting freshwater sources used by communities, agriculture, and industry. …»

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    National Geographic ScienceBlogs: Things Climate Change May Ruin: From Allergies to Wine

    By Peter Gleick, President

    July 16, 2013

    The evidence from real-world observations, sophisticated computer models, and research in hundreds of different fields continues to pile up: human-caused climate change is already occurring and will continue to get worse and worse as greenhouse-gas concentrations continue to rise.

    Because the climate is connected to every major geophysical, chemical, and biological system on the planet, it should not be surprising that we are learning more and more about the potential implications of these changes for a remarkably wide range of things. And while it is certainly possible – even likely – that climate changes may positively affect some things (like modestly reducing heating bills in colder regions), the planet’s ecosystems and human-built systems have evolved and been built around yesterday’s climatic conditions, not tomorrow’s. Overall, the evidence suggests the bad consequences will greatly – perhaps massively – outweigh the good.

    Continue reading

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  • In 2012, 53% of Global 500 companies responding to CDP Water Disclosure reported that they have experienced detrimental water-related impacts to their business in the last five years.

    Shared Risk, Shared Interest: Corporates and Their Role in Sustainable Water Management

    By Peter Schulte, Research Associate

    June 18, 2013 

    Businesses around the world are making the strategic decision to invest in water-use efficiency and wastewater treatment in their operations. From a business perspective, these efforts reduce operational costs, help alleviate reputational damage due to harmful impacts on ecosystems and communities, and manage risks related to insufficient water supplies. However, many businesses are increasingly going beyond these “inside the fencelines” efforts to encourage more sustainable water management throughout their supply chain and the watersheds outside their factory gates.  They do so by facilitating water-use efficiency and pollution reduction measures of other actors in their watersheds; advocating for efficient, equitable, and ecologically sustainable water policies and practices at the local, national, and international scales; investing in public water infrastructure expansions or upgrades; and a variety of other approaches. …»

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  • Notes from the Field: Community Learning Sessions in Malang

    by Misha Hutchings, Research Associate
    July 30, 2011

    At the beginning of one of the WATER SMS Project learning sessions in Malang, Indonesia, resident Pak Suep said, “We feel that we are small people. We don’t have any right to complain.” By the end of a learning session in the Klojen district of Malang, Ibu Lis, energized by the activity and passion of her fellow participants, stated, “This is an amazing group –I think everyone in here should become leaders and legislators so we can accomplish these goals!”


    On July 26 and July 28, Indonesian NGO PATTIRO, the Pacific Institute, and Nexleaf Analytics conducted three learning sessions with communities in Malang, East Java province. The goal was to understand what improvements residents wanted to see in water services, recognize what information they needed to improve their water supply, and identify organizations and agencies that could respond to these needs. The learning sessions in Malang and engagement sessions with water managers and stakeholders will help the Pacific Institute and our partners define key aspects of the Indonesia WATER SMS system, a mobile-phone-to-web-based communication and transparency system to improve water services in Indonesia.

    Information from these learning sessions will be taken to the local government and the water utility to help understand and determine what issues agencies can commit to immediately resolving, what they can incorporate into planning, and how they can provide necessary information and tools to respond to community requests. Based on this, issue areas for the WATER SMS tool can be defined.

    Learning sessions were conducted in Klojen, Kedungkandang, and Blimbing districts. In each of the sessions, 25-35 engaged and enthusiastic participants brimmed with ideas on what improvements they needed, who should be responsible, and how to continue this process. The problems identified with PDAM (government water utility service) included high costs, lack of transparency or consistency in water pricing, low water volume at certain places and times, lack of service in some areas that had already paid, poor water quality, and poor complaint redressal. Some residents were also served by local water user groups called HIPAMs. People complained that HIPAM services were not consistent, and that they often did not get enough water.

    Many residents requested further information to learn if their water was safe to drink, when water services would be shut off, and about transparent rate information. Residents who self-supplied water through private wells also wanted information on how to protect this supply. “I just want to know what the solution is — when I was a child, even in the dry season water existed all the time. Now, in dry season there is absolutely no water,” stated Ibu Srihanaratani during the Klojen session.

    Participants at several of the learning sessions noted that the increase in malls, government buildings, and paved areas provided no way for water to infiltrate and recharge groundwater supply. “We need integrated septic systems and forests and ways for the water to enter the ground,” said Ibu Kris from Kedungkandang. If we keep and protect our water supply, we will have no problem with water.”

    The learning sessions in Malang kicked off a very exciting series of engagement sessions in Malang and Makassar that will lead to the development of a WATER SMS system to meet the information and communication needs of all water sector stakeholders, and ultimately, help improve water services for the poor in Indonesian cities.

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  • SFGate: Flushing Water and Money Down the Drain

    By Peter Gleick

    This essay was originally printed in the San Francisco Chronicle on October 12, 2006.

    Exciting developments in the high-efficiency toilet market may sound like an oxymoron. But installing these water-efficient fixtures throughout California could free up more water than any proposed reservoir or water-supply project – with none of the adverse environmental consequences and at a tiny fraction of the economic or political cost. Recognizing this potential, the Assembly and Senate passed AB2496, a bill that would have paved the way in the coming years for the adoption of new, high-efficiency toilets throughout the state. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, however, vetoed the bill, and in doing so flushed away enough high-quality potable water to meet the needs of millions of Californians.

    Inefficient toilets in California waste a tremendous amount of water and money. The Pacific Institute, the institute I co-founded to research and analyze issues on development, environment and security, estimates that replacing existing toilets with high-efficiency models could save California more than 130 billion gallons of water every year. That is more water than we get from Hetch Hetchy reservoir, enough to satisfy the needs of approximately 1.5 million California residents.

    The water we are flushing is water that we already capture in reservoirs or draw from rivers, transport across the state and purify to drinking-water standards. Once used, this water must be treated and disposed. These processes are expensive and often energy intensive — 19 percent of California’s electricity is consumed by water systems to pump, clean, heat and treat water — yet we continue to flush unnecessarily precious water down our toilets. Saving water and reducing the generation of wastewater could save consumers hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

    California used to be the leader in the area of water conservation and efficiency. More than a decade ago, we pioneered the move toward water-efficient fixtures in our homes and industries. As a result, our population and economy have continued to grow while total water demands have leveled off. Indeed, we use less water today per person in California than we did more than 50 years ago — a fact that most Californians, and indeed most water policymakers, don’t know or appreciate. These improvements in water-use efficiency have eliminated the need for expensive and controversial new supply projects, reduced the damage to our ecosystems, and saved vast sums of money. But we’ve let our lead slip away.

    Water use is starting to creep back up because of the failure of our leaders to continue to apply well-understood technologies and policies to reduce wasteful and inefficient uses. The progress we have made will ultimately be overwhelmed by a growing population if efforts are not made to further reduce wasteful practices.

    Many state leaders on both sides of the aisle — including U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. — still fail to recognize California’s conservation and efficiency potential and regularly call for the construction of new reservoirs or new subsidies for expensive ocean desalination plants. Not only would any new reservoir be costly and environmentally controversial, no proposed reservoir could possibly yield as much water as AB2496 would have freed up. And given desalination’s extremely high operating and electricity costs – to say nothing of its impact on local marine ecosystems – it makes no sense to produce expensive desalinated water just to flush it down inefficient toilets.

    In his veto message, the governor stated that we need to study these toilets more. Yet we already know that they are standard in Australia, Japan and other countries. Dozens of models from a wide range of manufacturers have been extensively tested here as well and many of them perform better than toilets already on the market.

    A rational water policy requires that we make the best use of the scarce and valuable water we have. That will require that California return to its position of national leadership in the area of water efficiency and conservation, not just in our homes, but in our industries and on our farms. The Pacific Institute has found that California can actually cut its wasteful use of water by 20 percent in the next 25 years with expected population growth, a healthy agricultural sector and a vibrant economy. We won’t get there if the governor vetoes the steps we’re trying to take in that direction.

    Peter H. Gleick, Ph.D, is president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security, a nonpartisan Oakland-based think tank. He is a MacArthur Fellow.



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