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On the Verge of Water Scarcity:
A call for good governance and human ingenuity

A 2007 paper published by the Stockholm International Water Institute overviews the current state of water around the world and recommends policies that governmental and private water companies should embrace to address our emerging water crisis (a link to the complete report is provided below). This report is excellent reading for anyone concerned about or involved in setting water policies. It is also good news for those involved in rainwater harvesting as rainwater catchment is seen as one of the solutions to water scarcity.

Below are summarized some of the salient points from the policy brief:

  • Water scarcity will become a much larger issue than it is today due to: population growth, economic growth, water crowding (i.e. increasing pressure on a locally finite, erratically available and vulnerable resource), and lastly global climate change.
  • Future water use requirements will increase dramatically due to the current movement to use biomass (i.e. corn, grains and other plant materials) as an energy source. Bioenergy, as it is being called, is being projected to consume as much water as is currently used for agricultural purposes.
  • Global warming will affect areas differently – some warmer, some wetter; but across the board it will result in more violent storms with increased rainfall during shorter periods of time. This will increase runoffs that not only fail to replenish local aquifers but also remove valuable top soil from production (e.g. much as the dust bowl did in the United States in the 1930s).
  • Before boosting water supplies, agencies should first implement water demand policies.
  • Some of the suggested demand management options include: decreasing losses due to infrastructure leaks, improving irrigation practices, promoting efficient farming practices, storing water (i.e. harvest rainwater) for future use, curbing water pollution, promoting water reuse, and putting in place realistic pricing systems that encourage conservation.
  • River and aquifer (i.e. blue water) water scarcity is being caused by: demand (i.e. greater local water usage than there is local water), population (i.e. increased number of people attempting to use the currently available water supply), climate (i.e. warmer, more arid conditions) or pollution (i.e. increased pollution of the fresh water supplies either by agricultural runoff or industrial pollution; thereby, reducing the amount of freshwater available for use).
  • Water stressed areas, as defined by the UN, occur when withdraws exceed 40% of the river or aquifer. Currently over 1.4 billion people are affected today; including, those using the Colorado and Rio Grande rivers in the United States as well as numerous rivers and aquifers in China and India.
  • Potential solutions to blue water scarcity include reducing wasteful water use (e.g. fixing leaks in water pipes), eliminating inefficient irrigation practices, reducing exaggerated household water usage behaviors, and for temporary blue water shortages - storing rainwater.
  • Dry top soil (i.e. called green water in this study to differentiate it from rivers and aquifier water) water scarcity can be caused by: dry weather and/or poor water infiltration into the
  • Potential solutions to green water scarcity include rainwater harvesting to store water so it will last through dry spells or to store water for later release to handle storm runoff events enabling the soil to better absorb the water at a slower rate. Other solutions include: soil conservation measures (i.e. mulching), building berms and swales (see related topics), switching to less water intensive crops and encouraging people to waste less water and eat less water-intensive foods.

Water scarcity is a growing worldwide problem; including the United States and Europe. It is not an issue of physical availability, but of unbalanced power, poverty and related inequalities.

It is projected that fully two-thirds of the world’s population will be effected by water scarcity over the next few decades. Better management will go a long, long way towards of solving our growing water scarcity problem

Education and awareness must be key components of any policy program as some of the required demand driven options will require behavioral changes in how we relate to water and use it.

Related Links

Falkenmark, M., A. Berntell, A. Jagerskog, J. Lundqvist, M. Matz, and H. Tropp. On the Verge of New Water Scarity: A call for Good Governance and Human Ingenuity. SIWI Policy Brief. SWI, 2007


Retaining Water: Berms and Swales article
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