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Educate. Empower. Act. The mission of Project WET is to reach children, parents, educators and communities of the world with water education. We invite you to join us in educating children about the most precious resource on the planet — water.
After nearly a year of development, Project WET's newest learning tool for kids is available worldwide. DiscoverWater.org combines kid-friendly illustrations and animation with engaging, science-based activities covering everything from the water cycle and oceans to water conservation and the role of water in the human body. Students can also collect "Take Action" items throughout the site and create their own personalized printable "Take Action Poster" to help them remember how they can conserve and protect water. Please check out the site and share it with friends!
The Sustaining the Blue Planet: Global Water Education Conference starts today in Bozeman, Montana. We are thrilled to be welcoming almost 200 people from nearly 40 countries to beautiful Big Sky Country.
Recognizing that not everyone can make the trip to the conference, we wanted it to be easy even for those who can't attend to stay informed about the outstanding speakers, lively sessions and engaging events. Here are some ways to join the conversation:
• Project WET staff will be live-Tweeting many sessions and conference events from @ProjectWET. Keep track of those updates by following @ProjectWET, and respond to what's being said using the hashtag #blueplanet.
• The Sustaining the Blue Planet conference is now a venue on foursquare. See who has checked in!
• For those of you not active in social media, important digital updates will also be available on the this blog.
Connecting with the conference digitally is the next best thing to being in Bozeman, though we can't promise the views will be as good! We look forward to your virtual involvement in the conference.
With 25 years of leadership and management experience in strategy and implementation of sustainable development, safety, health and environment in the mining, chemical, and engineering consulting industries, Elaine Dorward-King is currently the Managing Director of Richards Bay Minerals in South Africa. Prior to her appointment as Managing Director, she was global head of Health, Safety and Environment for Rio Tinto, a role she held for eight years following other roles of increasing responsibility. Before joining Rio Tinto, Dr. Dorward-King worked for an engineering consulting firm, Ebasco, and for Monsanto Chemical Company, in the agricultural products division.
Dr. Dorward-King is a featured speaker at Project WET's Sustaining the Blue Planet conference.
Project WET Foundation (PWF): We all use the metal and minerals produced in mining every day, sometimes even without realizing it. Given these products' importance and the scale of production necessary worldwide, how does Rio Tinto use, manage and protect the water used in the mining process?
Dr. Elaine Dorward-King (EDK): In mining, we require water for a number of purposes. We need it to process the ore and to mine the ore, and we use it to manage how we handle waste and tailings. We use it for transporting in pipelines and reducing dust, and we need water for people to wash and drink. Sometimes, in remote locations, we need to help develop infrastructure for water. Water is a crucial resource for us overall.
That said, if you look on a regional or national basis, mining is a small water user, when you compare it to agriculture, for example. On the local scale, however, mining can be the biggest water user in a particular watershed. That requires us to make sure that we're managing water in a responsible way, which means we need to be conservative, using as little water as possible. We also need to recycle and reuse water and try to use non-fresh water when we can.
The way that we strive to achieve this responsible stewardship around protecting water is multi-tiered. We have a water strategy that sets out the key objectives required for managing water at a high level. These objectives include improving performance, understanding the value of water, and engaging with external stakeholders.
We also have water standards that specify the minimum requirements for all operations. These standards include evaluating water associated risks and require businesses to have water management plans and understand both the input and output of water. We also recognize the need to look forward in time and determine how our water needs fit in with other stakeholder needs-whether those are maintaining ecosystems or agriculture or addressing the requirements of people in towns and cities. That also includes paying attention to predictions about climate change and potential consequences such as changes in local weather patterns, and making sure that we plan operationally for those potential consequences.
Another important requirement making sure that accountability and responsibility are clearly established in an organization. The water program has to be ambitious, enterprise-wide and linked to sustainability initiatives in general. It must be aligned with the needs of the business as well as those of the community and other stakeholders.
PWF: Sustainability is a stated goal for nearly every industry. What cutting-edge methods is Rio Tinto employing to better manage water? Are there ways that Rio Tinto has found to have less impact while maintaining or even increasing production?
EDK: In the mining industry, the most important aspect of responsible use of water is making sure that operations understand how and where they use water and are able to measure the quantities accurately. That knowledge drives conservation and reuse by helping leaders and employees focus on what is important. Setting targets is also important. Neither of these things is especially complicated, but if you don't have the basics, you can't move ahead.
That said, we are using some new techniques and mechanisms to drive our water use. We use a method called "water risk review"—where a "roadmap" is developed of all the aspects of water important to an operation. These aspects include technical dimensions such as water balance, efficiency, surface and ground water quality, water and tailings impoundments, and water consumed or recycled onsite. The business assesses where they are now and where they need to be in the future, based on their business plan, and this provides a roadmap with regard to areas of strength and areas where additional work is needed. The roadmap shows where the risk is-that is, the space between where you currently lie and where you want to be. This clarity can help leaders make better decisions with regard to resource use and deployment. Going through this exercise helps highlight that water use in mining is about both protecting the quality of water discharged as well as managing water as a critical input—that realization can lead to changed attitudes and behaviors.
The water risk review is a tool we have used for a number of years on the technical side, but now we are trying to better incorporate social aspects such as community and water and water policy engagement with a range of external stakeholders.
PWF: What is the role of community engagement in Rio Tinto's water strategy?
EDK: One of the things that we recognize and acknowledge is that we're only one entity that competes to use water in any region where we have operations, and the needs of our local communities have to be one of the most important considerations. If we are not engaging in an open and affirmative way with local communities, then we won't have an ethical license to operate, much less a legal one.
One of our pillars in our engagement around water and with local communities to make sure we are talking about our plans for the future: What are our mining and development plans? What are we doing for reclamation and rehabilitation? What should we plan for eventual closure, taking into consideration community input on final land use and regulatory requirements?
Another side of considering communities is contributing to the understanding of local watershed in terms of capacity, transport and cycles. We want our operations to know if they are a dominant user or a minor user, and how they impact the water availability and quality. Industry can play a role working with government and academia in collecting data to help all parties understand and manage the watershed. That data collection role can be even more important in the developing world, where resources available in North America for monitoring and testing are not available or are costly.
The main thing is that we must find a lot of ways to engage—not be isolated inside our fence—but reach out to share and learn. In the past plenty of mining operations looked after their responsibilities to manage inside the operation but didn't go beyond the gate in terms of future planning or collaboration about water. We understand today that we need to look outside our gates to ensure the responsible allocation and use of water, as well as manage water quality.
Richard R. "Ricky" Arnold is a Mission Specialist and Educator Astronaut who has explored both under the sea and above the Earth. After completing Astronaut Candidate Training in 2006, he went on to tackle aquanaut training, serving on a 2007 joint NASA-NOAA mission where he lived and worked in and around Aquarius, the world's only undersea laboratory. In 2009, he was a part of the 36th flight of the space shuttle Discovery, traveling to the International Space Station and completing two spacewalks. Before joining NASA, Arnold taught science and mathematics around the world, working in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe. Since Arnold was a teacher before he became an astronaut, the Project WET Foundation asked Ricky Arnold to speak about the connections he sees between space exploration and classroom teaching.
Project WET Foundation (PWF): You were a science and math teacher for a number of years before becoming an Educator Astronaut and Mission Specialist for NASA. How did your work as a teacher influence your work at NASA?
Astronaut Ricky Arnold (RA): People enter the teaching profession because they want to help prepare kids for their future. I believe that the exploration of space is an endeavor based on a shared vision for humanity's future. It was really a pretty natural fit.
PWF: How did your perspective on the Earth-and especially on water resources on Earth-change as a result of your experiences in space?
RA: We live on a very beautiful planet. From space, you also get a sense of its fragility. Earth has a very thin veil of an atmosphere that protects us from the harsh and unforgiving environment of space. Another observation about Earth from space is that it is a planet dominated by salt water. Most fresh water simply isn't seen except in clouds or unless you fly over a large lake or perhaps a river delta. Much of the visible land-that which is not obscured by clouds like the rain forest-is desert. One really gets a sense of how precious our atmosphere and our fresh water resources are when viewed from 200 miles up.
PWF: As a water education organization, we're interested in finding ways to implement education that leads to meaningful local action. What role do you see for education in general and water education specifically in what you do as an Educator Astronaut and Mission Specialist?
RA: You don't see international boundaries from space. Our challenges are global, but local communities on different continents working together can have a huge impact. Educating individual communities on the actions they can take to improve their quality of life is the key-global change is the outcome.
Astronaut Arnold will be a featured speaker at Project WET's Sustaining the Blue Planet conference.