I was unaware of this article until yesterday morning, when the author, Dr. Peter P. Rogers of Harvard University, gave one of the keynote addresses at the UCOWR/NIWR Conference here in Durham and brought along some copies.
Rogers is Gordon McKay Professor of Environmental Engineering and Professor of City and Regional Planning at Harvard University, from which he received his PhD in 1966. Rogers is a senior adviser to the Global Water Partnership, an organization devoted to improving global water-management practices, as well as a recipient of Guggenheim and Twentieth Century Fund fellowships. He is the UCOWR 2008 Warren A. Hall Medal recipient.
Here are some key concepts from the article:
- Global freshwater resources are threatened by rising demands from many quarters. Growing populations need ever more water for drinking, hygiene, sanitation, food production and industry. Climate change, meanwhile, is expected to contribute to droughts.
- Policymakers need to figure out how to supply water without degrading the natural ecosystems that provide it.
- Existing low-tech approaches can help prevent scarcity, as can ways to boost supplies, such as improved methods to desalinate water.
- But governments at all levels need to start setting policies and making investments in infrastructure for water conservation now.
Okay, so how do we fix the problem? Here are six items Rogers lists as ways to avert crisis:
- Water is underpriced, which encourages waste. Price it appropriately to manage demand
- Supply 'virtual water' in the form of food and other goods to dry regions
- Ecosanitation - decouple water and sanitation; use dry or nearly-dry techniques to treat waste.
- Conserve irrigation water. A 10% increase in irrigation efficiency would free up more water than is evaporated by all other users.
- Maintain and modernize infrastructure
- Advanced desalination
The last paragraph of Rogers' article:
The international community can reduce the chances of a global water crisis if it puts its collective mind to the challenge. We do not have to invent new technologies; we must simply accelerate the adoption of existing techniques to conserve and enhance the water supply. Solving the water problem will not be easy, but we can succeed if we start right away and stick to it. Otherwise, much of the world will go thirsty.
Note that we do not need new technologies. We can fix the problem. It takes money, but more importantly, political will. I think the latter is sorely lacking.
For example, take item (2). Many nations consider food security a big deal, especially with an uncertain future looming ahead. I remember talking to a farmer in the Albuquerque area, who admitted that some of the ag practices and crops were inappropriate for the high desert environment, but told me, "We need to be able to grow our own food and be as self-sufficient as possible." So was he expecting Texas and California to go to invade New Mexico and cut off food?
One of my colleagues emailed this to me after reading Rogers' article:
This article, like many, misses the major point of the one-to-one connection of water use and food production. Until somebody figures out how to wrestle inefficient water use by agriculture out of existence we will always have water shortages. Worrying about the other water uses is basically not important.
What do you think?
“If you end the oil supply, motors stop. If you end the water supply, life stops.” – Turkish government minister