With the World Meteorological Organization declaring 2014 as the warmest year on record and droughts continuing throughout the world many are wondering what is happening to our fresh water. The answer is it is disappearing because we are using it. With replenishing sources of water drying up (glaciers, reservoirs and lakes) because of global warming, people all over the world are turning to underground water sources, using up natural aquifers.
The problem is that underground sources take a long time to replenish and once they are gone, they are gone for a long time. Unfortunately the problem is getting worse.
A recent study by Wada and Bierkens divided underground water sources into renewable and non-renewable factoring in global warming. This study reveals that non-renewable subterranean water use has grown by 50% from 1960 to 2010. This is largely because of the growth of irrigation in the U.S., China, India, Pakistan, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and northern Iran. Their study says, “Crucially, this rise is primarily attributed to non-renewable groundwater withdrawals.”
Droughts are widespread and the whole world is reeling. California is in the midst of a drought and has implemented its first ever, mandatory water restriction. It focuses on non-agricultural water use and requires a 25% reduction from levels established in 2013.
A Nature magazine “News in Brief” released in the April 9, 2015 edition states, “Many of California’s ski resorts have closed early this year because of low snow levels. On April 1 for the first time in 75 years, surveyors had no snow to measure at an annual assessment at Phillips Station….The water department measured only 3.6 centimeters of water content in the snowpack statewide – 5% of the historical average for April 1. The snowpack accounts for about 30% of the state’s fresh water.”
India is in a midst of a drought that has already exacerbated a poor water situation. The dry months of June and July account for frequent power cuts and water shortages. They offer a snapshot of what life in India will be like in the future.
In the dry months of 2013 hospitals in New Delhi stopped surgeries at one point because there was no water for sterilization of instruments. They could not clean operating theaters and there was no water for the staff to wash their hands. Luxury malls had to close their restrooms and not use their air conditioners.
India could be facing severe friction with its downstream neighbors. Both Pakistan and Bangladesh have accused India of using too much water so the populations of these countries also have water shortages.
Even a short drought of two years duration is causing major water shocks in Brazil. We are not talking about the groundwater but rather rainwater that is held in reservoirs and lakes. Barring a reversal in climate, according to an article written by Herton Escobar printed in the February 20, 2015 issue of Science magazine, “Officials are contemplating drastic rationing that would deprive millions of households of water for up to 5 days a week.”
Further the article said, “The Cantareira system, which provides water for 8.8 million people, is so depleted that authorities are tapping the last 8% – little more than stagnant dregs. Even if rainfall were to return to normal it will take several years to rebuild these reservoirs.”
At a conference on water security, the Chairperson of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Rajendra Pachauri stated, “Unfortunately, the world has not really woken up to the reality of what we are going to face in terms of the crises as far as water is concerned.” Further he said, “Naturally, this (water crisis) is also going to lead to tensions – probably some conflict between riparian groups and riparian states.”
The shortage of fresh water worldwide is reaching epic proportions. Residential consumers will feel the heat before farming communities because the farmers feed us all and are a big source of employment.
We must speak up to the rest of the public and get them and us to demand action by our elected representatives. Contingency planning is required if we are to avoid future shortages and disasters. We must conserve and find other sources of water using the latest technologies, like desalinization.
Each of us must do our utmost to protect this diminishing resource. We must do away with lawns; stop flushing as often and generally cut back on our water usage. Droughts are not restricted to the countries mentioned but are everywhere. There are too many of us demanding and using too much water.
Use the following links to gain more information or access the original source articles for this blog.
http://www.nature.com/news/seven-days-30-january-5-february-2015-1.16837 (Scroll down to “Warmest Year”)