Scientists Warn of Water Demands Overshooting Supply by 40%

Published on April 29th, 2011

Maria FotopoulosThrough the years at CAPS, we’ve written about water shortages and pressure on water supplies. As we’ve followed the water story, there seem few indicators that there’s any easing of pressure on water supplies. Not surprisingly, mounting population pressures and climate change continue to be major culprits in this story. At an international meeting last month in Canada, the stark news out of the gathering of some 300 scientists, economists and policymakers was that the demand for water in many countries will exceed supply by 40 percent within 20 years. Put another way, about one-third of people will only have about half the water needed to meet the most basic needs. Currently, one in seven people on the planet doesn’t have access to clean water. With global population on the verge of hitting a whopping 7 billion and expected to continue growing thereafter to even higher highs, it’s hard to foresee the situation not getting worse before it gets better – if it gets better. At the meeting hosted by the Canadian Water Network (CWN), researchers said that without addressing serious water shortages, there will be serious threats to communities. There’s really no area of human endeavor that’s not impacted by water. Agriculture uses 72 percent of water supplies, so food production can be greatly impacted by water shortages. As well, industry demands tremendous amounts of water. For example, producing a pair of jeans requires up to 1,400 gallons of water. Despite Gov. Brown’s recent proclamation that the drought was over, California continues to face long-term issues with water, as does all of the Southwest. A study conducted by Frank Ackerman and Liz Stanton through a grant by the Kresge Foundation analyzes the impact of climate change and population on water supplies in the Southwest. The researchers found that Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah will be looking at a total water shortage of 1,815 million acre feet from population and income growth. Climate change will lead to additional water shortages of 282 million to 439 million acre feet. Further, the researchers showed that the cost of addressing the shortfall would be between $2.3 and $4 trillion, based on current water prices. The impacts of climate change could increase that by as much as 25 percent. While conservation, limiting water waste, better management of water systems and usage, and development of super-efficient technologies all have a role to play in solutions to the water crisis, unchecked population growth also must be looked at as a significant contributor to the problem – and addressed. It seems a fairly simple concept to grasp; more people mean more demands on resources. If we’re serious about addressing water shortages (just one of the problems generated by population growth), we must address growth. For an interesting look at water usage, go to the Water Footprint Network.

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