CEO of Water For People addresses water sustainability

Sarah Ehrlich

Around the world 1.8 billion people do not have access to safe water and 2.4 billion lack access to adequate sanitation, according to Eleanor Allen, CEO of Water for People. 

Allen spoke about water sustainability and building a water infrastructure on World Water Day on March 22. 

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Water For People is a Denver-based nonprofit organization that works across nine countries to bring safe water and sanitation to over four million people. 

“Women and children spend more than four hours walking for water each day and more than 840,000 people die each year from water-related diseases,” Allen said. 

In addition to traveling to these countries to build wells, install indoor plumbing and pumps, the volunteers of Water For People educate and reach out to the community and government they wish to help.

In conjunction with CSU Hydrology Days and World Water Day, Allen’s lecture was part of the second annual Dr. Norm Evans Endowed Lecture Series, which are dedicated to educating others on water management, education and policy.

The evening began with Reagan Waskom, the director of the Colorado Water Institute and the chair of the CSU Water Center, introducing Allen and speaking about the importance of water conservation.

“Once you have clean water and sanitation you can move onto the next step and move up the hierarchy,” Waskom said. “I think we could also do a better job taking care of the ecosystem once we tackle those problems.” 

Allen’s lecture focused on water being a global currency that should be available to everyone and how building water infrastructure will make that easier to do. Water practices and ideas developed here in Colorado and across the U.S. are playing a large part in water development in countries who need it most. Allen also encouraged people to become “water diplomats” who provide education and solutions to the world’s most concerning water issues.

“Our population will continue to grow and place demands on our already low fresh water supply,” Allen said. “We can take care of our water and allocate it better because I actually believe there is enough water for everyone.”

Water For People works with government officials and communities to create projects to resolve various water access and sanitation issues. Allen met with the mayor of Rwanda in 2011 to create the model for one such project called “Everyone Forever: access to safe water and sanitation for every family, clinic and school, forever.” By working with the national government, Water For People is implementing Everyone Forever in every district of Rwanda and will soon be put into action in other countries as well.

“Everyone Forever is about building infrastructure,” Allen said. “But perhaps more importantly it’s about creating utilities and training professionals that can operate and maintain water systems.”

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As a civil and environmental engineer, Allen spoke of the importance of scientific studies dedicated to more efficient water systems. Colorado is on the forefront of this research, which has been shared across the nation to make smarter systems dedicated to conserving what we have and avoiding divergence as much as possible while creating these systems.

Emilie Abbott, a civil and environmental engineering student and intern for the CSU Water Center, believes population growth and climate change are the main points of discussion when thinking about water.

“Here we’re seeing the need to share between agriculture and cities to meet water demands for everyone,” Abbott said. “Cities are working on conservation measures and looking into innovative techniques for water reuse.”

The lecture ended with audience discussion where one question was asked about the kind of advice she’d like to give to CSU students interested in water. Allen mentioned that students at CSU are lucky to have unique program opportunities that she never got to experience.

“Work will be there for the rest of your life so follow your heart and take time to travel and discover,” Allen said. “Take this window of opportunity to discover what you like and what you want to become great at.”

More information about water programs and activities at CSU is available at www.watercenter.colostate.edu

Collegian reporter Sarah Ehrlich can be reached on news@collegian.com or on Twitter @SarahEhrlich96.