KU water conference kicks off Friday morning with EPA official’s survey of Midwest conservation issues

The Midwest has so many water problems that it could take the better part of a morning just to list them. Drought, declining aquifers, aging infrastructure and pollution are just the beginning.

So those are the topics Karen Flournoy, regional director for the Environmental Protection Agency, focused on as she led off a two-day conference on drought and global water problems in The Commons at Kansas University’s Spooner Hall Friday morning.

“I tell people, there’s nothing more important than water,” Flournoy said. “If there’s anything that keeps me up at night, it’s that.”

Before a procession of researchers and guest speakers spoke about water conservation and security issues across the planet, Flournoy described some of the problems the EPA is grappling with in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa, and how federal officials plan to deal with climate change in the near future.

Part of the solution, Flournoy said, is gathering information. The EPA, along with other federal agencies, is promoting a series of data-driven tools to monitor changes in ecosystems and rainfall, as well as stress on local drinking water systems and agriculture. The key to managing water supplies in the future, Flournoy said, is education and getting more people engaged in finding solutions. “We’re going to have to think of some new actions,” she said.

The headline speaker, who’ll appear at the end of the event Saturday, is Anupam Mishra, a writer and environmentalist from India.

The conference, “Drought, Conservation and Security in the 21st Century,” began Friday morning and continues Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information, visit global.ku.edu/conferences.