In 20 years, water demand will exceed supply by 40 percent

Population and climate change will put a strain on our water supply.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor


It takes so much water to make everything we produce and own. The hidden use of water is known as virtual water. Nearly 90 percent of the consumption of the world's fresh water supply is used for producing food and energy.

You might not realize this but it takes 1.5 tonnes of water to make a computer and six tonnes to make a pair of jeans. So it's not surprising that the annual global virtual water trade is the equivalent of 10 Nile Rivers.

Sadly, our unsustainable use of water is running in short supply. The Dailymail reports on recent studies that found that the water demand will exceed the water supply by 40 percent in two decades.

Why is there such a poor outlook for our global water supply, exactly? Well, there are two reasons: blame population growth and climate change. In 20 years, a third of the global population will only have half the amount of water we need, which will put a strain on industry and agriculture.

Water supplies will be sought after like oil is.

However, it's not all doom and gloom. Fortunately, there are some things we can do to conserve water. One of the major things we need to change is how infrastructure is designed to manage our water supply. Currently, most of our products around the house and water systems were built with the idea that water is limitless and abundant.

US EPA researcher Nicholas J. Ashbolt said in a statement, "water conservation could easily reduce demand from households by 70% compared to today's usage in countries like the USA, through innovations available that radically reduce water used to flush toilets, wash clothes and irrigate gardens."

But managing water use around the house can only get you so far. Fortunately, scientists are developing better tools to understand the interplay between water systems and the environment. The scientists are developing genetic tools that can assess the water quality to check for any microbial life that happen to be lingering in the water supply and to control the spread of water-borne diseases.

American microbiologist Rita Colwell, Chief Scientist at Canon US Life Sciences, said we are starting to feel the impact of extreme weather events. The unpredictable weather changes put a strain on our water infrastructure and cause it to fail and further spread infectious diseases in cities.

Experts warn that more disasters like the floods in Pakistan and Australia will happen more frequently. The historical 100 year floods are now expected to occur every 20 years. From water shortages to water-borne diseases to water pollution, our water problems aren't going away - especially as more people move into cities.

John Matthews, director at Conservation International, said there are ways to manage water for sustainable development. Matthews wrote about the issue in a document:

The development of complex, agro-industrial, energy-intensive societies globally over the last two centuries has deepened our connection to ever-more extensive water management. The intensification of water use has come with a rapid expansion of water infrastructure on a massive scale; over 40,000 large dams exist in the USA alone, most built within the last century. The rapidly developing nations of South America, Asia, and Africa are now entering their own era of rapid water infrastructure development, fueled in part by the push for low-carbon energy sources. As a result, few large rivers still flow free and unobstructed to the sea.

The global hydrological system is in danger. However, if we manage the water supply better, we can adapt to the changing climate conditions. Considering most infrastructure has been engineered for a single climate, future development should be designed to adapt to the changing environment.

Matthews reminds us that "managing water is not new to human societies. In many ways, we are a water engineering species." But if we continue to build and use water in an unsustainable way, then we will only be putting more stress on the environment and be unprepared to deal with unexpected ecological disasters.

Photo: Hans Schreier, University of British Columbia

Source: AAAS meeting

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