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Water, technology, business, and politics

At the end of this blog I list a few other environmental topic blogs I’ve posted on SCN. Hopefully I won’t repeat too much of what I’ve already said.

My first full time professional job was giving away government money.  No, seriously. The United States Federal government has many grant programs.  I happened to end up in Construction Grants, pushing virtual dollars to state and local governments for wastewater treatment projects.  The Environmental Protection Agency was authorized by Congress to set up priority lists, determine eligibility, assist in project management, and monitor that the money was being spent on the correct work.  My job was simply a clerk in a large office building, pushing grant papers around.  I managed just a couple field trips in my 2 years on that job, where I got to see both huge city size sewage plants, and smaller village sized ponds and concrete tanks.

While I was there, computer technology for project management was rudimentary by today’s standards.  Nearly all processing was done on mainframes in COBOL, though the minicomputer era was dawning with the advent of DEC pdp-11 systems that could run FORTRAN and a few other “scientific” languages.  But the majority of workers had no direct access to the computer systems; we handed punch documents to the IT staff and were given green bar printouts in return.

On the other hand, the business requirements were generally the same as today.  The priority lists were like wikis or spreadsheets of possible projects. The grant transmittal letters may be done via email today (though I doubt it), but the grammar, syntax, meaning, and attached strings are probably the same.  And a trip report will likely be done in the same type of government vehicle (“FOUO“) but with a digital camera instead of a film camera, and a notebook computer instead of a paper notebook for documentation.

When you next wander near a public works project, take a look at the inevitable sign out front showing the funding source for the infrastructure that is being maintained.  And these days, it’s as much repairing the 100-year old pipes as it is building new structures.  Within the past several months, my city has had at least 2 huge water main breaks, one taking out parts of a 4 lane highway and flooding hundreds of homes, the other disrupting water supply for a large part of the metropolitan area.  The pipes tend to be invisible until they freeze, leak or go dry.

I watched Flow: For Love of Water (the film) earlier this week.  As is sometimes typical for a documentary film, there were ratings on IMDB either very high (“inspiring”) or very low (“poorly edited”).  I don’t think it was as sensational as one of Michael Moore’s films, or of Al Gore’s, but there’s a lot there.  A few of my highlights:


  • “bad water kills more than AIDS, more than wars” (I missed quoting who said this).

That’s a statistic not easily verified, as symptoms of various illnesses caused by water pollution can be similar to other causes. It is not hard to see how many people do not have access to safe drinking water.  We’ll come back to the water bottle controversy.

  • “FDA has less than full time one person monitoring bottled water” – Erik D. Olson, Former senior attorney, Natural Resources Defense Council

That’s the United States Food and Drug Administration, who are responsible for the health of 300 million people in their medicine, food and purchased commodity water.  They don’t regulate public drinking water supplies – that’s done by the EPA and state and local environment and health agencies.

  • “the World Bank has legal immunity in [many of] the countries it operates” – Patrick McCully, Executive Director, International Rivers Network

That one was really a show stopper for me.  See › About Us > IBRD Article VII if you want to see for yourself.  The World Bank runs on SAP, I believe, based on conversations I’ve had with a couple people who worked there.

  • “There is no technology superior to the foot march.” – Siddharaj Dhadda, Gandhian Leader (the film is dedicated to him, as he passed away in early 2008 before the movie was released).

For more on Dhadda, see:

What now?


Please continue (or start to) support charity:water. If you can only help one person get access to safe drinking water, it’s worth it!

Think about where your corporate profits go, and where charitable and philanthropic money goes.  See “1% for the Planet”:


Take the water bottle challenge.  See:
Think Outside the Bottle Pledge: petition


I’ll send an (unused) SAP TechEd 2009 water bottle (still in the cardboard container) to the first person who responds to this blog, and that needs one.


Blog References

Photo of the Green Bay, WI, US wastewater treatment plant – 1979



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  • As always, Jim, your blogs are thought provoking and inspiring.  No, I don’t need a TechEd water bottle, count me among those you have successfully converted.  I shared an extra bottle that I had (SAPTeched bottle) with a co-worker, and now two of us are happily drinking out of these.
    Thank you for another great blog.  I will be helping someone get clean drinking water today.
  • Thanks for bringing Charity:water to our attention; for corporate worker bees who may struggle to see the impact of what we do in our corporate work worlds, this is such a simple and easy way to make a huge difference in someone’s life and have real impact.

    I too do not need the TechEd water bottle, thanks; I have several aluminum bottles already in use in our home.