Many people point to renewable energy as the greatest threat facing fossil fuel power plants. New WRI research finds that the real threat may be water.
When we overlaid areas of current water scarcity with existing power plant infrastructure, we found that 47 percent of the world’s thermal power plant capacity—mostly coal, natural gas and nuclear—and 11 percent of hydroelectric capacity are located in highly water-stressed areas. That’s a problem because both thermal and hydroelectric power are highly dependent on water to produce electricity. Read more
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