Water – the real crisis facing us

While Americans are distracted and consumed by the routine chaos out of the White House, we are letting huge problems go unaddressed. One of the major problems is the current and growing global water crisis. For several years, the World Economic Forum has voted the global water crisis as the greatest risk facing our planet over the longer term, defined as ten years. But, this is not just a future problem, the city of Cape Town in South Africa is in severe water crisis and continues to ration pushing forward their Day Zero as long as they can

Per The Guardian in an article this week, the United Nations warns that water shortages “could affect 5 billion people by 2050 due to climate change, increased demand and polluted supplies, according to a UN report on the state of the world’s water. The comprehensive annual study warns of conflict and civilisational threats unless actions are taken to reduce the stress on rivers, lakes, aquifers, wetlands and reservoirs.

The World Water Development Report – released in drought-hit Brasília – says positive change is possible, particularly in the key agricultural sector, but only if there is a move towards nature-based solutions that rely more on soil and trees than steel and concrete.

‘For too long, the world has turned first to human-built, or ‘grey’, infrastructure to improve water management. In doing so, it has often brushed aside traditional and indigenous knowledge that embraces greener approaches,’ says Gilbert Houngbo, the chair of UN Water, in the preface of the 100-page assessment. ‘In the face of accelerated consumption, increasing environmental degradation and the multi-faceted impacts of climate change, we clearly need new ways of manage competing demands on our freshwater resources.’

Humans use about 4,600 cubic km of water every year, of which 70% goes to agriculture, 20% to industry and 10% to households, says the report, which was launched at the start of the triennial World Water Forum. Global demand has increased sixfold over the past 100 years and continues to grow at the rate of 1% each year.

This is already creating strains that will grow by 2050, when the world population is forecast to reach between 9.4 billion and 10.2 billion (up from 7.7 billion today), with two in every three people living in cities.

Demand for water is projected to rise fastest in developing countries. Meanwhile, climate change will put an added stress on supplies because it will make wet regions wetter and dry regions drier.

Drought and soil degradation are already the biggest risk of natural disaster, say the authors, and this trend is likely to worsen. ‘Droughts are arguably the greatest single threat from climate change,’ it notes. The challenge has been most apparent this year in Cape Town, where residents face severe restrictions as the result of a once-in-384-year drought. In Brasília, the host of the forum, close to 2m people have their taps turned off once in every five days due to a unusually protracted dry period.”

Here in the states, we exacerbate our drought and other water problems with bad piping and fracking, which waste or use huge amounts of water. But, with our vast agriculture, we need water to produce our and much of the world’s crops. We must manage it better. Two books are very illuminating. “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization” by Steven Solomon is a terrific look back and ahead. He is the coiner of the phrase “water is the new oil.” The other book is called “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman” by Miriam Horn that details the struggles of these professions and two others with climate change and its impact on water and other things they do.

Folks, this is a major problem. We must address it now before we all have our own Day Zeroes. If this is not enough to raise concern, one of the financial experts who forewarned us of the pending financial crisis, has a new concern – water.


33 thoughts on “Water – the real crisis facing us

  1. We are slowly exhausting our planet. I hope that it is not too late until the last one realizes that. That’s an important post, Keith! The politics should rather turn to such issues than building idiotic walls. Uniting instead of separating!!

    • Erika, building a wall is as good a metaphor for the Trump presidency as there is. What we need in the US, he cannot deliver and that is unifying leadership that helps solve complex problems with holistic solutions. The water crisis leadership will have to come from someone other than him. Keith

  2. Note to Readers: Here in the US, we are following the climate change pattern facing the rest of the world – drought areas are drier, melting snow washes underbrush away causing more wildfires and other areas witness stalled fronts. Duke Energy, one of the largest utilities, factors in some water loss from uncaptured steam and evaporating reservoirs. But, they increased evaporation loss by 11% due to climate change. Someone tell Scott Pruitt, Rick Perry and Donald Trump that. We are at risk of losing aquifers and we have lead pipes and fracking to deal with.

      • Hugh, many thanks. The key story for Duke Energy is the coal ash leeching into water and moving some old sites. One of the sites is upstream from the main water reservoir for Charlotte. Unfortunately, more fracking for natural gas is not the most elegant answer to coal. Keith

      • True. You may find comical that a Duke spokeperson testifying for a rate increase to help pay for coal ash clean up, said it was just the cost of a Big Mac, fries and a drink a month. Duke walked this back the next day.

  3. Dear Keith,

    We the USA could be leading the world in coming up with best solutions to preserve the world’s water supplies but we can’t even admit there is such a thing as “climate change” with President Trump and like thinking republicans in charge.

    In future elections, Dems need to focus on ACA,climate change specific gun control measures that even most 2nd amendment enthusiasts can live with which does include ban on assault weapons.. These issues cut across all demographics.

    Hugs, Gronda

    • Gronda, I agree. The water focus will help make climate change live in people’s minds. The farmer in Miriam Horn’s book has been successful talking with legislators by focusing on the the diminishing reservoir. He is also big on planting what naturally grows in an area, as it requires less irrigation. Keith

  4. Excellent post, Keith! How easily it is to forget to look at the bigger picture. The shrinking of agricultural land and expansion of the Sahara, some say, has played a role in the birth of such groups as Daesh (Isis). We need to awaken our leaders to the fact that this is a bigger threat to the world than their own foibles. We in the Western world take water, for granted, just as we do the air we breathe. Turn a handle, Voila! Water. So easy to forget that someday we might turn the handle and … nothing. Thanks for reminding us to stop and look at the bigger picture for a few minutes.

    • Jill, thanks. Since you are so well read, you immediately seized on a cause and effect. From what I have read, the start of the Syrian unrest is traceable to a severe drought. Even Saudi Arsbia is oil rich and water poor. Yemen supplies a lot of labor to Saudi Arabia, so people are impacted there as well. That may or may not be a secondary cause to the fighting in Yemen. Combining environmental strife with corrupt leaders allows ISIS and others to be allower in. Keith

      • The earth and all its inhabitants, both plant and animal, are quite neatly intertwined, though we often don’t realize it. When you mess with one thing, it has a ripple effect and changes the entire ecosystem. We tend not to think about that, understandably, but we would do well to listen to the scientists who have made it their life’s work to study and research such things. I find it frightening to see how many people view scientific research as simply an opinion that they may either share or not. And I also find it sad … or perhaps maddening … that people tend to be so greedy that they are unwilling to conserve or perhaps make minor sacrifices for the good of the whole.

      • Jill, you said it well. I think you would like Miriam Horn’s book “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman.” What you describe is key to the book which speaks from the perspective of folks trying to make a living, long term off the land and water but doing so in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way. The other two professions covered are a riverman and shrimper. Keith

  5. Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    A man in the woods was so focused on looking down to make sure there were no snakes in his path, that he didn’t notice the huge black bear that had quietly walked up behind him. The moral of the story: don’t become so focused on the day-to-day minutiae that you fail to see the bigger picture. We here in the U.S. have become so obsessed with the snakes in our government that we have not paid as much attention as we ought to the bear that is creeping none-too-gently into our midst. Our friend Keith, who I admire for his ability to step back and look at the bigger picture, has written an excellent post about a looming crisis that threatens the entire planet: water. Please take a minute to read Keith’s post and think about this, for potable water and clean air are the two basic requirements for all life, plant and animal. Thank you, Keith, for reminding us that there are bigger crises in this world than the bureaucratic jungle.

  6. Note to Readers: As we think about renewable energy vs fossil fuel energy (or even nuclear energy), renewables need not use any water to produce energy. Mind you, there is one solar option where water is used, but many solar energy sites use photovoltaic panels which absorb the sun’s energy converting it into electricity. Wind energy uses no water and tidal and hydro energy are using the motion of water to turn the turbines, so there is no loss of steam vapor.

    It should be noted, when steam is created by nuclear or fossil fuel boiling the water, utilities recapture the steam and reuse it as it cools back into water. Once it is finally released back to the source, there is loss of water of 1% to 2%. As for fracking to glean natural gas, huge amounts of water (from 2 to 6 million gallons per frack) are used that is not reusable as it is mixed with toxic chemicals. We should also not lose sight of coal ash needing to be kept wet to avoid it from blowing away.

    Frackers like to say that water use is overstated, but with ten fracks per well on average and 1,000 wells in one area that makes the number 20 to 40 billion gallons of water. There are easy to find articles on frackers and farmers fighting over water and some Texas towns running close to dry from nearby fracking.

    • Thanks Roger. Our blogging friend Linda just informed me that a Republican friend of hers noted there is no water crisis, since his neck of the woods seems to have plenty of water. Mind you he was standing in the state of California on a visit when he said this, which has an ongoing water crisis. He may want to ask why the restaurants don’t serve water unless you ask for it.

      • Not every water crisis involves arid ‘Mad Max’ style deserts.
        Everyone in the UK over 45 remembers the Drought of ’76. With water traps shut off for 12 to 16 hours per day for 3 months.

      • Roger, if you have not read Solomon’s book on Water, you might enjoy it. Using mastery of water as the lens, it is one of the best history books I have ever read. For example, his thesis is that the US solidified becoming a global power by building the Erie Canal connecting the Atlantic to the Great Lakes and the Panama Canal connecting two oceans.

        He also speaks of the Roman viaducts and the Big Stink in London whose solution brought on cholera and dysentery. Managing water meant outflow of sewage as much as inflow of drinking water. In London’s case the two sources were too close to each other. Keith

  7. There are areas in Latin America known for the special ‘Dry Rainforest’ sections.. there is a season of rain, and there is a season of drought, where most trees drop their leaves, and sometimes three months go by without a drop of rain. The 2016 earthquake hit during the rainy season, but had it hit at the end of the dry season, I think that many more people would have been desperate for basic needs like water. Part of my criteria when looking for a new place to live was to find ample ‘riochuelos’ – small clear springs that run year round, which provide dependable drinking water if needed. In fact a riochuelo provides the water for this little coffee farm where i live, and its quality is probably much better than any municipality could provide w/broken lines, confluent growth, etc. \A geologist gave me a water purifying bag that filters out almost 100 percent of the demons that can make one’s life miserable.. it’s always good to have something like that in case of emergency….

    • Lisa, thanks for sharing the geography and water history there. You are a wise woman about looking for and finding the spring. Sounds like you can make a great cup of java there. Keith

  8. Note to Readers: More on this later, but the Huffington Post has uncovered a internal EPA memo drafted by one of Scott Pruitt’s direct reports asking staff to downplay the science behind climate change. As with other matters, our problems are hard enough to solve when we deal with facts and truth. Pruitt is harming not only our country, but our planet and needs to be called on the carpet for his fossil fed position. Someone needs to tell him ExxonMobil is still under investigation for misleading shareholders about the impact of climate change on their business – this is a securities crime if proven true. As an attorney, I hope Mr. Pruitt can understand that risk.

  9. Note to Readers: I saw a news report on the significant efforts of the Cape Town residents who have pushed Day Zero even further forward. Their rainy season is on June – August, so let’s hope they get more rain than the last few years. They are developing a desalinization plant to convert sea water, but that is only a partial solution. The people should be commended for their conservation and ingenuity.

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