A Hungry and Thirsty World is Growing
Widespread annual droughts, once a rare calamity, have become more frequent and are set to become the “new normal,” causing severe economic, poverty and nutritional effects. The expected megadroughts would present major risks to water sources, and with the increasing agricultural demand there is an increased need to devise new ways to use water and provide innovative water solutions.
Today, the United Nations Water Division calculates that some 70% of fresh water goes to agricultural production; therefore feeding the world is really about water. Major river basins in the United States showed 5 percent to 50 percent reductions in flow recently, with these reductions persisting up to three years after the drought ended because the lakes and reservoirs that feed them needed several years of average rainfall to return to pre-drought levels. As population grows and demand increases, cities will have to fundamentally change how they acquire and use water.
[aside]SEE ALSO: Will Your City Run Dry?: Help decrease the risk of water shortage for your city.
Water scarcity in the United States will seemingly lead to current temporary emergency steps such as bans on watering lawns, becoming permanent, and grocery bills increasing with the cost of agricultural production increasing. In Malawi, it is projected that future severe droughts observed once in 25 years could increase poverty by 17 percent, hitting especially hard rural poor communities; and in India, dismal losses from droughts have in the past already reduced 60-90 percent of households’ normal yearly income in the affected communities.
Water infrastructure is therefore an area that requires investment both for new construction in developing regions and repairs for crumbling pipes in the developed world.
U.S. Drought Monitor
USDA 2012 Droughts Map
Growing Blue™ Tool
Population growth, urbanization and industrialization have driven the need to address the field of reuse and increase its application both in the United States and around the world.
Amidst growing water scarcity, and concern about the future availability of water, a new GE survey shows increased support for reusing water to help the United States drive economic competitiveness and protect the environment.
General Accounting Office predicts that 36 states face water shortages in the coming year. However, water reclamation and reuse standards in the United States are currently the responsibility of state and local agencies, with no federal regulations for reuse. Recognizing the need to provide national guidance on water reuse the EPA has developed guidelines in support of appropriate water quality, uses, and regulatory requirements for development of reclaimed water systems for the benefit of utilities and regulatory agencies. The 2012 updates to the “Guidelines for Water Reuse” have thus been updated to address new applications and advances in technology.
[aside]SEE ALSO: Growing Blue® Tool: Designed to help us find solutions to our water issues now.
Technologies today are advanced enough to treat wastewater to the water quality required for their intended use. This concept of “fit for purpose” is highlighted in the EPA Guidelines to emphasize the efficiencies realized by designing reuse for specific end applications. There is widespread support for using recycled water for activities that require significant amounts of non-potable water, such as agricultural irrigation, power generation, landscaping, industrial processing and manufacturing, toilet flushing, and car washing. These guidelines therefore provide useful information to engineers and others involved in the evaluation, planning, design, operation, or management of water reclamation and reuse facilities.
EPA Guidelines for Water Reuse
Attitudes Toward Water Reuse
Water Reuse in Orange County
A set of proposed policies regarding agriculture aims to move the EU towards a water-efficient and water-saving economy.
Sustainable and efficient water management demands the engagement of all sectors and a focus on both the quantity and quality of water resources being used. A study conducted by the European Commission recognized that without changes in practices water use would increase by 16% by 2030. However, the study also found that the European Union can increase water use efficiency by 40% through technological improvements alone and even further with changes in human behavior and production patterns.
Agriculture is a significant water user in Europe, accounting for around 33% of total water use, and up to 80% in parts of southern Europe. Crop irrigation has been practiced for centuries and is the basis of economic and social activity, but has a high consumptive use resulting in approximately 70% of water abstracted not returning to a water body. Therefore several technological and management measures have been proposed to improve the efficiency and sustainability of agricultural water use, these include:
- Improving irrigation efficiency through conversion from open channel conveyance to pressurized pipe networks. In the Cote d’Azur region of France, such a conversion has helped save around 3000 million m3 annually.
- Field application efficiency that encourage drip systems rather than furrows. Spain has already reduced by one-third the areas that used to be irrigated by gravity (flooding) and now has 1.6 million hectares that use drip irrigation.
- Modifying agricultural practices to ensure careful crop selection and the timing of cropping. While this requires more awareness and education, in Crete where there is an Irrigation Advisory Service water savings of almost 20% have been achieved.
- Reusing wastewater. By avoiding discharge to the sea water, recycling has extended water use in Cyprus and is expected to equate for more than 25% of the water demand by 2015.
[aside]SEE ALSO: Efforts to Encourage the Public to Use Water More Sustainably
With population expected to grow through 2035 in Europe, resource efficiency measures are ensuring that sufficient clean water is available at an affordable price to provide vital goods and services.
Towards Efficient Use of Water Resources [PDF]
EU Water Statistics
Conflicting Demands on Water Supply
Travel and tourism continues to be one of the world’s largest industries, accounting for almost 10% of global GDP. Reports coming in from all around the world show how water shortage is directly influencing and reshaping the tourist market across continents and how increased water demand in the industry is impacting local communities and natural environments.
With tourism revenue contributing to more than 15% of GDP in most countries, and more than a quarter of GDP in the Maldives and Seychelles, and almost 50% of employment in Macau, the tourism sector is identifying measures to undertake and adapt to the changes occurring globally to water supply. With tourisms spreading uncontrollably in some areas, climate change is significantly shaping the conditions of destinations through more frequent and extreme heat waves, droughts, storms and floods. With warmer and longer summers driving up demand, some places such as some Greek islands are having drinking water transported over long distance by ship; and winter tourism areas such as those in the Alps, are facing shorter seasons thus requiring more artificial snow-making leading to increased energy and water consumption. The methods currently in use are in turn depleting the crucial water supply for the local populations.
[aside]SEE ALSO: Water in 2050: The Future of Water Requires a Sustainable Path
Hotels today, especially in much of the developing world, are working under the practice of considering water as unlimited. The hotels are neither properly regulated for their usage, nor monitored by the government, thus allowing the hotel and its guest to not pay for what they consume. In Gambia where tourism directly contributed to almost 20% of GDP in 2011, most hotels were found to have inadequate infrastructure and water meters that were not working. This is turn has led to a rapid rate of consumption and the depletion of fragile underwater reserves that are aggravating poverty and undermining livelihoods and sustainable development. In Bali, tourists were using 16 times more fresh water a day per head than locals, which has contributed to the spread of diseases such as cholera, and wells in neighboring areas becoming saline and unfit for consumption.
Governments are therefore faced with the need to provide and enforce clear regulatory frameworks for tourism and water management. In the face of global climate change
and economic cycles
that are many times highly correlated to the performance of the tourism sector, a balance must be found in putting the water rights of communities first while also maintaining a certain level of revenue that can aid in alleviating poverty and supporting sustainable development
The Impact of the Tourism Industry on Freshwater Resources
As cities continue to revisit their water systems and rebuild them with greener infrastructure, there remains another important problem lying beneath the surface, strongly in need of being addressed. Read More