The Problem Water is a natural resource found in nature and is essential for supporting the life of both plants and animals. Water scarcity is the imbalance that is likely to occur between the available water and its demand. The increased population growth and the rise in water demand are the key issues related to water scarcity. Arid and semi-Arid regions are the most affected areas by water scarcity, which experience droughts and wide variations in climate change. When this is combined with issues like economic development and population growth, the problem can easily get out of hand. Water touches all aspects of human civilization.
It is estimated that one-third of the world lives in areas that experience water shortages, although the developing countries are the worst hit by the crisis.
The causes of water scarcity
Water scarcity can also be caused by, among other things, the increased degradation of both the groundwater and surface water quality or the interregional and international conflicts, which all lead to the intersectoral competition for water. In order to adequately address the water scarcity problem, actions from local, national, and global levels will be required (Moyle, 1995). If, for example, there is increased collaboration between various nations concerning the shared management of the water resources such as the rivers, lakes, and aquifers, the water scarcity issue can be put in check without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems and the livelihoods of the various people who depend on the water.
A lot of people may disagree that the water crisis can easily pass for the crisis of the Century. The main reason for this is that water scarcity is an issue that has been for
long been associated with poverty and the third world or developing countries.
As one of the most precious elements of life on earth, water is essential not only for the satisfaction of basic human needs but also for the maintenance of good health and for use during food production, for energy, and for the preservation of universal and local ecosystems (Gleick, 1997).
The world water demand has tripled lately, with the water scarcity signs becoming commonplace (Moyle, 1995). Severe signs include the disappearance of lakes, rivers, and wells running dry. For example, the Colorado River, which at some point runs dry. The river is the largest in the southwestern United States, and its drying up can be attributed to the increased water demand with time, which leads to the rise in the diversions from the river, thus draining it routinely (Master, 1991).
Livelihood relies on the water since over seventy percent of the human body is made up of water; water deprivation is thus more likely to kill a person compared to lack of food.
The water scarcity problem is likely to increase with the rapid growth of urban areas due to the heavy pressure placed on the water resources. These calls for the integration of different sectors, which can deal with the issue at hand, taking into account the development, supply, use, and demand of water all over (Widstrand, 1992)…
Emphasis must, however, be placed on the people involved, their livelihood, and the ecosystems that sustain their way of living (Abramoty, 1995). For the water scarcity alleviation programs to be successful, the focus must be on water productivity. The increase of the available water of good quality can only occur if the ecosystems are protected and restored. The ecosystems are known to naturally capture, filter, store and release water in the rivers, wetlands, forests, and soils.
In the 21st Century, the environment, energy production, health and sanitation, and food-related issues all have to do with the effective management of water and its quality (Postel, 2000). Contaminated water is a health hazard as most of the killer diseases around the world are carried in contaminated water. Heavy rainfall has been accounted for both the overloading and contamination of drinking water treatment systems which in turn leads to diseases. The efficiency and conservation of water have so far been brought to a halt by policies and laws that encourage wastefulness, mismanagement, and misuse of water as opposed to its saving.
The problem is further increased by the competition between city-dwellers and farmers who both want the same commodity, especially in water-short cities (Postel, 2000).
Globally, people in over forty countries have no access to safe water, and the sanitation services are inadequate. The water crisis has turned out to be a threat to life-sustaining events like freshwater fishing as a result of the extinction, threatening or the endangering of the freshwater fish species (Cosgrove, 2002).
The principal causes of the water crisis can be said to be the Change of climate, the overconsumption of water, and the rapid population growth, which can be closely associated with pollution.
The available water for use globally is 0.6%. This is because the whole world depends on an available amount of approximately 3%, of which three quarters are in the form of snow and ice.
Industrial wastes, chemicals, pesticides, fertilizers, all of which are used during farming, and human wastes are said to be the major sources of water pollution (O’Riordan, 2004).
The reservoirs’ water storage capacity has been greatly reduced, resulting from the sedimentation which is caused by deforestation. The water supplied to consumers is lost way before reaching the targeted consumers either through illegal taps or when water leaks out of the pipes, faucets, or the water main pipes.
According to Alfred (1999), America is facing increased competition for scarce water in addition to the diminishing supplies of oil and natural gas. This scarcity of freshwater, even in unexpected places, does not only increase business expenses but it also limits the growth and threatens farm productivity all over.
This problem has led to the installation of a reverse osmosis desalinization plant in Brockton, Massachusetts which will supply some of the drinking water in the area.
The Atlantic coast, on the other hand, resulted in the conversion of brackish water into drinking water due to the shortage of freshwater.
In the Southeast, the drought has led to limits being given by the related authorities when planting gardens and lawns for any new homes being because of water restrictions. Homeowners were even fined for watering lawns, washing sidewalks or for violating restrictions regarding water use which have been prompted by the severe drought.
The water scarcity has also led to the Ogallala Aquifer, the enormous underground reservoir beneath the Great Plains being slowly depleted. Its water levels have dropped drastically by more than a hundred feet in some areas, and this has resulted in agriculture in the Colorado Basin facing shortages (Abramoty, 1995).
The Great Lakes water levels have also declined drastically. A good example is the Lake Erie which supplies drinking water to a lot of people, and its declining water levels can be attributed to the climate change.
In a move to prevent the draws on the Great lakes and protect the water resources of the basin, the Great Lakes Compact has been signed by eight states in America and two Canadian provinces so as to prevent the exportation of Great Lakes water to other regions.
However for the Compact to become law, it requires the approval of the U.S Congress. Such declines in the water levels affect the power plants in that if the water levels slightly go down and if critically observed, all the water intakes are likely to be affected since the power plants can only draw water from a particular depth.
Most Americans are yet to see the seriousness of the water scarcity problem or its likely consequences. Water scarcity is looked at as a temporary issue which can not be related to the regional growth or the American’s way of living and how they manage the precious commodity.
As the United States moves towards a period of limited water resources and the world’s largest freshwater supply is threatened by climate change, restrictions on water usage have been tightened, and the rates increased in various cities. The increasing awareness of the pending water crisis could lead to long-term damage alleviation (McAllister, 1996).
In the residential areas of Northern America, the daily water usage per person is estimated to be six hundred litres per day. The United Nations foresee severe water shortages by the year 2025 if the current global water consumption is not addressed. The average water supply is bound to fall due to an increase in the world’s population, and the poor and those living in marginalized areas will be the hardest hit.
The annual food production is as a result expected to be greatly affected by water scarcity and these calls for appropriate measures to be put in place so as to ensure there is a good supply universally of water of good quality and also that the current environmental damage is addressed appropriately.
This will play a big role in providing clean water to those who are lacking and also to prevent health risks associated with water shortage.
If the water shortage is not addressed with speed, the world runs the risk of experiencing a shortage of both water and food.
In the United States, the effects of water scarcity are likely to be less significant than in other parts of the world, especially in the developing world. This is attributed to the fact that it is a developed country which can afford to offer effective health infrastructure to its citizens and the government and non-governmental organizations are actively involved in disaster planning and response (McAllister, 1996). This does not however mean that a lot of Americans will not be affected by the water shortages if appropriate measures are not adapted.
The available water bodies under normal circumstances are capable of diluting pollution, generating electricity, supporting the fisheries and wildlife, but due to the improved living standards, there is a lot of demand for water, a lot more than the rate at which the population is growing. In an effort to deal with the water scarcity problem, larger water development projects, for instance, the use of river diversions and dams, are some of the methods likely to be used (Master, 1991).
The United States government and other organizations like the United Nations must come up with ways of dealing with the water scarcity problems. For instance by encouraging the harvesting rainwater at the local level. This will be an improvement since the move has been neglected with the development of the municipal water systems and the storm-water systems that enable the channeling away of rainwater (Abramoty, 1995).
The harvesting techniques can be expanded or increased in capacity to enable the capturing of rainwater on-site, which will in turn allow it to be infiltrated in landscape features and stored in cisterns to be used later. The adoption of the method which has been previously used in Australia and India will ensure there is water supply in most areas for longer periods of time even when the land is hit by drought.
Other methods which aim at ensuring that the entire community is sensitized about effective water management strategies include the use of nonprofit organizations that teach individuals how to install cisterns in their neighborhoods or in the homesteads and in the process the people will learn of the techniques they can use to shape the landscape for effective harvesting of water (Groombridge, 1996).
When water is captured on-site, there will be less runoff or stormwater that is capable of carrying pollutants into waterways or even cause flooding. In places where groundwater is dirty, rainfall can be captured and stored for use since it is considered to be the cleanest source of water.
According to Groombridge (1996), rainwater is also useful for augmenting the available water supplies in areas with dropping water supplies. For water harvesting to be more effective, it must be used together with water conservation. Conservation can be done by the installation of water-efficient appliances or by use of gray water. This is water collected from the bathroom sink, shower water or water from the washing machine and the dishwasher.
Conservation can also be done through the planting of a native landscape. For instance by putting in place check dams or basins which can help slow and infiltrate water on sloped land, thus reducing erosion and increasing the soil moisture, which will enhance the growth of vegetation cover.
Though the water conservation steps may not exactly be the solution for water scarcity, the method will play a big role in helping people to adapt to the uncertain climate change.
The water scarcity problem in the United States is as a result of the over reliance on the same source by the community, the industries, the agricultural sector and the natural ecosystems. The competition increases as the precipitation patterns continue being affected by the climate change universally and the depletion of natural water reservoirs.
Some technological solutions to the water scarcity problem can be applied. They include cleaning up pollution, which will make more water available for use, especially in the agricultural sector, which will make water usage to be made more efficient or by planting drought-resistant plants. This will lead to the reduction of the amount of water required to support different types of plants (Hartington, 1994).
Another method which can be used in agriculture in response to the water scarcity problem is the drip irrigation where the amount of water needed to water the plants is greatly reduced, or the use of low-sprinklers and building of simple earth walls which will enhance the trapping of rainfall (Hartington, 1994).
In America the recycled water treatment for intake purposes can guarantee the ‘recycling’ of water a number of times or the desalinization of seawater which although an expensive undertaking, it will increase the amount of water available for use in all sectors, domestic, commercial agriculture etc.(Dugan,1993).
The removal of salt technique takes huge quantities of energy and leaves brine in large amounts, but it would help in the provision of clean water for use across the country.
The Geological Society of America (GSA) articulates its views on the water scarcity issue by showing that the drought related impacts are expected to rise, especially in the twenty-first Century due to the increased human populations and with that the issue of water scarcity is expected to become more severe.
The society therefore calls for the evaluation of the drought related problems and anticipation of future issues so as to be in a better position to address the problems as opposed to being caught unaware. This will help in the identification of strategies for drought and water scarcity management and in the development of a clear and decisive action plan which can be utilized (Master, 1991).
The society says the drought has been a normal part of the climate for nearly all parts of the United States; this makes all regions vulnerable to drought induced water shortages due to the growing and uneven population, urbanization and environmental degradation.
The United States must thus come up with ways of improving the drought management approaches. The climate change and the threatening potential increase in the frequency and duration of the drought episode also require enhanced water management methods.
The Geological Society of America in response to the water scarcity issue called for a meeting in September of 2006 to look into among other issues the interactions among the physical and ecological environment and human behavior and institutions, the relationships between humans and the water environment in the face of population pressures, urbanization and life expectation demands on the strained water resources, the impact of global climate change on the management of drought and water scarcity and the development of drought and water scarcity indicators (Moyle and Leidy,1995).
Various reports show that the water scarcity problems are no longer limited to the developing countries, and the issue has now become global. Water has become as issue in its scarcity, distribution and sanitation and there is need for the expansion of drinking water and sanitation services both in the rural and urban areas and this is possible if both the government and the private sectors collaborate to ensure that the appropriate measures are used depending on the intensity of the problem.
The water scarcity problems have also been predicted to be either the cause of conflict in the twenty first Century or to be in a position of enhancing better cooperation among water users at different levels. Disputes when accessing clean water may arise from who has rights to the water, especially when it lies on the border between rivals.
The Solutions can be found in the improvement of water governance. For instance, through the adoption of policies and leadership strategies which are known to have pushed non revenue water below ten percent in regions like Singapore, Penh, and Phnom.
The government can also invest in the development of human capacity and water infrastructure.
Other solutions or sustainable recommendations which have been put across include; the establishment of rainwater catchments, use of water storage tanks, reuse of greywater, reforestation, low flow shower and the use of drip irrigation and water pumps in agriculture (Myers,1987, p.237)..
If the natural environment is interfered with in any way, the likely consequences are deforestation, land degradation, and the toxic contamination of both soils and waterways, as is seen in most parts. The technological solutions must be feasible, sustainable, and cost-efficient. To prevent the overuse of water in the rivers, which has led to the river basins experiencing shortage, measures must be put in place to reduce the dependability of rivers by water users, irrigators, and the ecosystem. The solution to the water scarcity problem may prove to be difficult, but everyone has an important role to play towards the solution of the crisis by supporting water conservation efforts.
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