Leading Water Policy Expert Discusses Importance of Conservation

Robert Glennon, considered one of the nation’s leading experts in water policy and law, began a presentation at Allegheny College last Tuesday by posing a question to the students sitting around him: “How many of you like to take long showers?”

Slowly, hands shot up around Ford Memorial Chapel, and after some deliberation as to what could be considered “long,” Glennon asked his audience to imagine having to pay for that shower by the minute.

Glennon is a Regents’ Professor and Morris K. Udall Professor of Law and Public Policy at the University of Arizona. He is the author of such books as “Shopping for Water: How the Market Can Mitigate Water Shortages in the American West” and “Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It,” which received the Rachel Carson Book Award in 2010 for reporting on the environment.

Glennon also has appeared on television programs including “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” to promote awareness of water shortages and climate change. And those topics were the focus of his presentation at Allegheny.

After discussing threats posed to humans by climate change, Glennon turned the audience’s attention to the primary subject of the talk: the substantial connection that exists between water and energy.

“We used to worry about running out of energy, but water lubricates the American economy just as oil does,” Glennon said. He cited the National Hockey League as an example, noting the amount of water used by NHL teams in their arenas in 2017.

“And if even something that seems so out of place in discussing water as (NHL) hockey requires 300 million gallons, then you realize that there’s no industry or business in the United States where water is not very, very important,” he said.

Glennon placed the importance of the American water supply in direct contrast with the scarcity of water and the crumbling infrastructure that surrounds it. He discussed the contamination of water sources in Flint, Michigan.

“Flint could’ve happened anywhere in Pennsylvania, Ohio or Michigan,” he said. “We are at risk of losing something tremendously important about who we are as a people, and that is the proud tradition we have of providing virtually universal access to everyone in the country to safe, clean water. That’s under attack, and it’s a matter of great concern.”

Glennon also discussed issues of overconsumption of the depleting resource in areas where it is scarce, such as Las Vegas and Southern California. Finally, Glennon stressed the importance of conservation and the idea that the future of energy and water conservation is not entirely doomed.

“It’s not one thing or another; it’s some combination,” he said. “No one size can work for all communities, but there’s no need to despair. We have the tools, the menu of options, to fix the problem.”

This sentiment was echoed by Henry “Bing” Ewalt, a 1962 Allegheny graduate, and his wife, Mary, as the evening drew to a close. They presented Glennon with the College’s inaugural Ewalt Environmental Prize and urged students to keep working hard and thinking about the answers to climate change.

Glennon’s talk was the second of a three-part lecture series for a short course on the future of energy policy offered at Allegheny this fall. The first lecture was presented in September by Jeffrey Ball, scholar-in-residence at Stanford University’s Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance. The third lecture will be given by Julie Sze, professor of American studies at the University of California-Davis, in November.

In addition to his presentation on Tuesday evening, Glennon hosted a question-and-answer session with interested students the following day in Pelletier Library.