Saturday, 19 March 2011

Thirsty for water-saving ideas for events

Living on the "Wet Coast" of Canada drought tends to be one of the farthest things from my mind. After all, my September - May wardrobe is defined by it's ability to keep at bay the varying degrees of soggy that drench the city of Vancouver. Even the dog sighs at me when I drag him out daily to dodge the raindrops (note his love of water below).

Living here it's easy to think drought is a problem for Australia or Africa. But the news of late is giving me signs it's not so far from home, which of course is no excuse to suddenly become more attentive to what is a significant global environmental and human rights issue.

Today's Arizona Republic discusses the challenge of securing a new water supply for one of the largest metropolitan regions in the USA. It includes ideas for reducing consumption - critical in a region where changing the landscape to eliminate lawns could increase projected water supply by 40%.

Last week the Denver Post discussed the conflict between agricultural and residential water use in Colorado, where transfer of water rights from farmers to the suburbs could remove 700,000 hectares of irrigated cropland by 2050.

And then there is Texas, where in spite of wetter than typical weather, farmers fear the return of the Dust Bowl as critical underground water supplies run dry. The southwest region as a whole is particularly susceptible to drought. (More reading 3/23/11).

The reality is many cities - including those in North America - are at risk of drought. Sperling has put together a list of drought-risk cities in the US using data from the National Climatic Data Center. The North American Drought Monitor also keeps track of drought risk areas in Canada, Mexico and the USA.

Where does your city lie? What destinations are you going to that may be water-hungry? Are there steps you can take to contribute to solutions from an events perspective?

Earlier this week I posted some common tips to conserve water at events. But there are always those unplanned things that crop up that you just didn't anticipate like....
  • What to do when your opening reception sponsor wants to put a stage over a garden water feature, requiring an entire pool be drained?
  • Responding to an attendee complaint that an exhibit booth keeps their water faucets on all day, wasting water unnecessarily?
  • Helping an exhibitor who wants to find a better end of life use for the ice sculpture left over from his booth?
  • Assisting a conference organizer who hears organic cotton bags are not good because they require too much water to grow?
  • Advising a rental company who desperately wants to offer reusable green linens, but has to resort to harsher water-polluting chemicals to keep their tablecloths free of unsightly grease stains?
These are all questions I've been asked on one occasion or another and in many cases there are no perfect answers. In these situations creative problem solving has to kick in to find a better, more water-friendly solution often in a less than ideal situation. In the case of the above, solutions have included:
  • Draining water features into surrounding gardens in place of regular watering when moving the stage to an alternate location is just a no-go.
  • Amending exhibitor guidelines to require exhibitors to have holding tanks and pumps to 'close the loop' in any displays that involve running water. 
  • Breaking ice sculptures into pieces and leaving them to melt onto landscaping.
  • Educating about different textile options for bags and their environmental impact using resources such as GMIC and their members.
  • The laundry example we're still working on, and would welcome suggestions!
Would welcome other planners and destinations to share their water-conservation challenges and solutions as we approach World Water Day March 22.

More drought-related reading:

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