Preparing For A Water-Limited World

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“The data and statistical tools used to plan $500 billion worth of annual global investments in dams, flood-control structures, diversion projects, and other big pieces of water infrastructure are no longer trustworthy,” she writes. “In other words, when it comes to water, the past is no longer a reliable guide to the future.”

The uncertainty of future water supplies and flow patterns is not limited to concerns over dams and diversions. Food security, public health, and life as we know it are also at risk.

Postel describes a “day of reckoning on the horizon” in the U.S. Southwest, for instance. Some scientists predict there is a 50 percent chance that Lake Mead, which stores Colorado River water for tens of millions of people and one million acres of irrigated land, will dry up by 2021.

And she notes that as much as 10 percent of the world’s food is produced through tapping too deep into residual and unreplenished groundwater resources. “This creates a bubble in the food economy far more serious than the recent housing, credit, or dot-com bubbles, for we are meeting some of today’s food needs with tomorrow’s water.”

The Solutions

“The water challenges confronting us locally, regionally, and globally are unprecedented,” Postel writes. The good news, she says, is that we have the economic and technological capacity to make sure global water needs are met. We just have to start using it.

The smarter path to water sustainability also requires us to work with nature and assign it a value for flood protection, water filtration, and other beneficial services it provides, according to Postel. And smarter water users-individuals, cities, utilities, businesses, and farmers-will be more aware of their water footprints and how to reduce them.”

Read more: National Geographic

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