“The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing.”
Water is our most intimate resource – our bodies are between 60 and 70 percent water. We use water to grow our food, generate our power, manufacture our clothes, and move our waste stream. But water, like most resources, is finite.
While the amount of freshwater on the planet has remained fairly constant over time—continually recycled through the atmosphere and back into our cups—the population has exploded. This means that every year competition for a clean, copious supply of water for drinking, cooking, bathing, and sustaining life intensifies.
Freshwater comprises a very small fraction of all water on the planet. While nearly 70 percent of the world is covered by water, only 2.5 percent of it is freshwater. The rest is saline and ocean-based. Even then, just 1 percent of our freshwater is easily accessible, with much of it trapped in glaciers and snowfields. In essence, only 0.007 percent of the planet’s water is available to fuel and feed its 6.8 billion people.
According to the United Nations, water use has grown at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century. By 2025, an estimated 1.8 billion people will live in areas plagued by water scarcity, with two-thirds of the world’s population living in water-stressed regions as a result of use, growth, and climate change. Even regions that have avoided the majority of these problems to date are at risk: the impacts of climate change, unsustainable water use patterns, and the continued depletion of major aquifers portent significant problems ahead.
The way forward? Comprehensive water management approaches that include conservation and efficiency in every sector, community-scale infrastructure, aquatic ecosystems protections, water management at the level of watersheds rather than political boundaries, and smart economies.
The report “New Visions. Smart Choices. Western Water Security in a Changing Climate” from Carpe Diem West documents progress on this front in ten communities throughout the West who are collaborating to optimize the benefits that freshwater provides. The approaches of the ten communities profiled in this report can serve as models for other communities seeking to take real steps to add resiliency to their water supply in anticipation of a dry future.
- San Antonio has reduced per capita water use by 42% since 1994
- Santa Fe took on water conservation with even greater gusto, reducing per capita use by 40% in just ten years
- In Colorado, water users and the Colorado Trust cooperated to provide ‘drought emergency’ instream flows for the Yampa River. The leased water provided multiple benefits as it flowed downstream – generating extra hydropower, providing aesthetic and recreation benefits, helping recreation business avoid tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenue, and irrigating thirsty crops
Eugene’s Water and Electric Board developed a Drinking Water Protection Plan to help farms become more economically viable so that the land stays in production and is not sold for development and to encourage reduced use of polluting pesticides and nitrates. Partnerships with farmers in the watershed are the cornerstone of success to ensure that the local watershed remained well-stewarded.
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