For some of the world’s most pressing water questions, the answer is in nature.
Clean, plentiful water depends on healthy surrounding natural systems such as forests. Much of the world’s water is filtered through forested watersheds, which improve water quality and protect water supply. Large forests like the Amazon even help control the “rivers of the sky,” which dictate rainfall patterns hundreds of miles away.
While both the world’s forests and water supply are under threat, their intertwined relationship also means that these systems can be improved simultaneously. Current water crises are impacted by three specific challenges – climate change, forest fires and extreme weather – all of which can benefit from valuing and restoring forests. Read more
Healthy forests are critical to providing clean water. Forests can positively impact the quantity, quality and filtration costs associated with a city’s water, sometimes even reducing the need for costly concrete and steel infrastructure.
Deforestation in the Amazon can affect rainfall in places as far away as Texas.
The world’s major watersheds lost 6 percent of their tree cover on average from 2000-2014. Today, about 31 percent of the world’s watershed area is covered by forests. Deforestation in these watersheds, often caused by commodity and agricultural production, can contaminate water, fuel floods and drought, and lead to higher water treatment costs. Read more
Once-unthinkable water crises are becoming commonplace.
Reservoirs in Chennai, India’s sixth-largest city, are nearly dry right now. Last year, residents of Cape Town, South Africa narrowly avoided their own “Day Zero” water shut-off. And the year before that, Rome rationed water to conserve scarce resources.
The reasons for these crises go far deeper than drought: Through new hydrological models, WRI found that water withdrawals globally have more than doubled since the 1960s due to growing demand – and they show no signs of slowing down.
New data from WRI’s Aqueduct tools reveal that 17 countries – home to one-quarter of the world’s population—face “extremely high” levels of baseline water stress, where irrigated agriculture, industries and municipalities withdraw more than 80% of their available supply on average every year. Forty-four countries, home to one-third of the world, face “high” levels of stress, where on average more than 40% of available supply is withdrawn every year. (Check your country’s water stress level in the full rankings at the end of this post.) Such a narrow gap between supply and demand leaves countries vulnerable to fluctuations like droughts or increased water withdrawals, which is why we’re seeing more and more communities facing their own “Day Zeros” and other crises. Read more
Is the water in your local lake clean enough to swim in today? Currently, the only way to find out is for someone to take a water sample, bring it back to a lab, then report the analysis 24 to 48 hours later. Soon, however, water-sampling buoys anchored off of beaches could provide readings in real time.
Developed by scientists at Michigan State University and the US Geological Survey, each of the buoys contain sensors that continuously measure variables such as water temperature, clarity and bacterial content. Using an onboard cellular modem, they transmit that data to a shore-based server. Read more
As the climate warms up, more and more farmers in Switzerland need to irrigate their crops. This is problematic because many rivers carry less water. If the increase in water use is limited, agricultural production will not be significantly lowered. This conclusion was reached on the basis of models created in a project of the National Research Programme “Sustainable Water Management” (NRP 61).
Climate change will lead to regional water shortages. If the use of river water is not regulated, both water quality and biodiversity could be negatively affected. Overuse can be avoided by redirecting water from larger bodies of water via pipes and distribution networks. This comes at a considerable price and has an impact on the environment. Read more