Event aims to increase awareness of global water education

By Nicole Rosenleaf Ritter Project WET Foundation

Living near the headwaters of watersheds that cover much of North America, Montanans are accustomed to pristine waterways and ready access to water. The same cannot be said uniformly around the world.

Approximately 780 million people lack access to an improved water source, and some 3.4 million people – 99 percent of them in the developing world – die each year as a result of water and sanitation gaps.

Water scarcity and sanitation are hardly the only pressing water issues. Closer to home, Gallatin River flooding due to 2014’s record snowfall created messy, sometimes dangerous situations for residents and business owners. In other places within the United States – California, for instance – ongoing drought threatens livelihoods and lives while driving up food prices.

These issues and others will be addressed at the Sustaining the Blue Planet Global Water Education Conference being held in Big Sky from June 24-27. Sponsored by the Bozeman-based Project WET Foundation – a nonprofit organization working around the world to increase awareness about the importance of water resources management – Sustaining the Blue Planet highlights the role that education can play in developing the next generation of water stewards, and managing and protecting water for the good of all users.

“Sustaining the Blue Planet conference participants represent a wide cross section of water and education interests, from school and community educators to corporate water managers and leaders of water NGOs,” said Dennis Nelson, president and CEO of Project WET. “The unifying factor is that everyone involved cares deeply about the future of water in their own backyard and around the world.”

A homegrown partnership between Project WET and The Traveling School – a Bozeman nonprofit that seeks to enrich the lives of teenage girls by offering academic semesters in either Africa or Latin America – demonstrates this dynamic. The partnership will also be the focus of a benefit barbecue and silent auction, to be held on the evening of June 26.

Since 2011, Project WET has trained a handful of TTS participants each semester to use water, sanitation and hygiene education activities that Project WET developed in cooperation with USAID and UN HABITAT. Focusing on hand washing, water source protection and disease prevention, the activities are designed to improve health and educational prospects for young people in developing countries.

According to TTS, the partnership works on multiple levels.

“Project WET resources and training help our students have a better understanding of water issues around the globe,” said TTS Head of School Jennifer Royall, highlighting an experience that TTS students and teachers had in a primary school in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province.

“The two students Project WET had trained worked with their classmates on the best way to implement knowledge about water, sanitation and hygiene,” she wrote in an email to Project WET.

“By the end of the lessons, every student understood how waterborne diseases are transmitted, how healthy habits can reduce the spread of disease and how to appropriately wash their hands,” Royall wrote.

In addition to the benefit, the TTS-Project WET partnership will be discussed in a panel session about gender and water education, one of dozens of presentations, panels and discussions on tap for the conference. The summit kicks off at lunchtime on June 24, with an introduction by Montana Lt. Governor Angela McLean. NBA Legend and water education advocate Harvey Catchings and NASA Astronaut Ricky Arnold are among the other distinguished presenters.

If You Go

Sustaining the Blue Planet conference

Location: Big Sky Resort Conference Center

Dates: June 24-27, 2014

Register: projectwet.org/blueplanet

Blue Planet Water Education BBQ & Silent Auction

Location: Big Sky Resort – Lone Peak Pavilion

Time: June 26, 7-10 p.m.

Buy tickets: tinyurl.com/l5bfpfm or call (406) 585-4118