PROVO -- You can't see it, but no matter where you go in the world humans take it for granted.
Water. Clean, drinkable underground water.But in many places, humans have depleted and dirtied the underground reservoirs to the point billions are at now at risk of disease. And that's where a Provo firm, Environmental Modeling Systems Inc., is playing a role that is directly affecting the lives of hundreds of millions of people throughout the world.
Government officials from India were in Provo this week being trained on how to use the software that documents underground water supplies, as well as the possible source of pollution that makes it unfit for humans.
"They have very serious problems with their ground water," said Royd Nelson, president of the company. "They have a huge popula- tion (about 800 million people) and a lot of abuse of over-pumping water. They have hundreds of thousands of wells, and people are pumping whatever they want."
India also has serious pollution problems with its ground water, as well as salt water intrusion from the ocean.
The Indian government has created a ground water regulation entity to salvage the country's underground water supply, which is being depleted at the rate of about 2 to 3 meters a year. The government is looking at a number of remedies, including recharging aquifers with spring and rainwater.
Before they can manage the water problem, though, officials have to know what their underground water resources are and where the pollution is coming from. The computer model provides the tools "that will dramatically improve their ability to manage their precious resources," Nelson said.
Researchers have found that water more than 800 meters below the ground surface is still free from pollution. The EMS-I software will enable the Indian government to exploit that water.
Currently, some 2,500 to 3,000 entities are using the software in 60 different countries. The software is being used to deal with drinking water problems ranging from depletion of underground water to cleanup of toxic substances like oil refinery waste and nuclear contamination.
EMS-I is a spin-off company from the Brigham Young University Environmental Modeling Research Laboratory. The software was developed by a university professor who wanted his students to apply their training in water management to a "real world" circumstance.
They chose a case in Woburn, Mass., where local residents suspected W.R. Grace and its subsidiary, Beatrice Foods, of contaminating the underground water and causing several fatal cases of leukemia in children. The BYU data was critical to the case.
That case later became the subject of the movie "A Civil Action."
In Utah, the company has been meeting with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality to develop a model to trace underground water contamination in Beaver County in southern Utah.
Several wells in the Beaver County area near the Circle 4 hog farm have tested positive for certain bacteria common to animal wastes. The hog farm might seem a logical source of the underground pollution, but state scientists have not been able to show where the contamination is coming from.
Nelson said a computer model might narrow down the source, but more importantly, it will help the state develop a plan to deal with underground water contamination caused by huge quantities of animal wastes.
"There is concern about the large amount of effluent generated (at Circle 4), and the state wants to manage and predict what might happen," Nelson said.
The company has also been involved with Kennecott in developing its plan for managing and cleaning up mill tailings. And it is now working with water officials to manage resources in the Los Angeles Basin.
The international effort is a public-private partnership called the U.S.-Asia Environmental Program that is designed to use U.S. technology to promote environmentally sound economic growth in 11 Asian countries.