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Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

So wrote Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his seminal work, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” The irony of finding oneself completely surrounded by water unable to partake a drink is not lost on us, and that may be the future as rapidly increasing populations are expected to more than double the need for more water by 2025. What really irks me is the lack of awareness from politicians and people in general: whenever I have a conversation with a friend or a client about water scarcity, I get the same vacant look, eyes roll, and shrugs ensue. I mostly get "but we have had water for millions of years, and surely, the rain replenishes aquifers!" Hum, no. Google aquifers and you will discover an entirely different story. Clean, potable water is finite. The world's apparent warming climate has caused fresh water reserves to fall across the globe. And to make matters worse a well known idiot, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from Orange County, has an idea to battle global warming: "cut off the trees!" My head hurts at such asinine pronouncing.

To most it may seem obtuse to talk of a water crisis when we've had recent floods and deluges in some countries and yet we know water scarcity already affects 45% of the world’s population. The next twenty five years will be crucial for not only governments but food producers worldwide. The message is stark: less water, less food.

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The following linked articles and known facts are causes for concern.

Closer to you (from EPA):

Growing water scarcity in many parts of the USA, including Los Angeles, Phoenix, Dallas, and Atlanta, could result in less water. The Ogalala aquifer stretches across 8 states and accounts for 40 percent of water used in Texas. Its volume will fall a staggering 52 percent between 2010 and 2060.

Texans are pumping the Ogallala at about six times the rate of recharge.
Water conservation and regulation policy is difficult to implement because Texas views groundwater as essentially a property right.

Who benefits? T. Boone Pickens business Mesa Water and other companies are snapping up water rights, and looking to market water to cities like Dallas. What's next? Air? And don't get me started on water privatization run by the IMF & World Bank brigands!

Climate change in tropics poses food threat to poor:

The shorter growing seasons expected with climate change over the next 40 years will imperil hundreds of millions of already impoverished people in the global tropics, say researchers working with the world's leading agricultural organizations. The effects of climate change are likely to be seen across the entire tropical zone but many areas previously considered to be relatively food secure are likely to become highly vulnerable to droughts, extreme weather and higher temperatures, say the researchers with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (Cgiar). Source

Trouble in Big China:

YINCHUAN, China—Even along the middle reaches of the Yellow River, which irrigates 402,000 hectares (993,000 acres) of farmland north of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region’s provincial capital, there is still no mistaking the smell of dry earth and diesel fuel, the abiding scents of a desert province that is also among China’s most efficient grain producers. Source

More trouble in China:

The months-long drought parching middle and lower parts of the Yangtze River basin is the latest reminder of the risks that China's limited and heavily used water sources pose for the world's second-biggest economy. Even before this drought, smaller lakes around Lake Honghu were disappearing, taken over for fields and fish farms. Source

UN warns of food riots in developing world as drought pushes up prices:

Food prices are expected to hit new highs in the coming weeks, tightening the squeeze on UK households and potentially triggering further unrest in developing countries unless there is heavy rainfall across drought-affected Europe, the United Nations has warned. The average global price of cereals jumped by 71% to a new record in the year to April, more than three times higher than a decade ago, according to latest UN figures, prompting its Food and Agriculture Organisation to warn that Europe faces a pivotal few weeks. Source

Africa Faces More Severe Droughts:

The increased frequency of drought observed in eastern Africa over the last 20 years is likely to continue as long as global temperatures continue to rise, according to new research published in Climate Dynamics. Source

Australian gov latest data on drought:

Rainfall across Australia was mixed during April 2011. All states and territories showed some areas of below average rainfall and some areas of above average rainfall. The largest areas of above average rainfall were in the north of the country, mainly over the Kimberley and northern parts of the NT, while the largest areas of below average rainfall occurred in the centre of the continent, with smaller areas along the southern coast and in western parts of WA. Source

Population Increases Key Driver of Water Scarcity:

The report, Is Physical Water Scarcity A New Phenomenon? Global Assessment of Water Shortages over the Last Two Millennia, was published by the Institute of Environmental Studies and the VU University in the Netherlands and the Finish Water and development Research Group from Aalto University. Source (3rd on pdf)

South America Does Not Escape Droughts:

A 2,300-year climate record University of Pittsburgh researchers recovered from an Andes Mountains lake reveals that as temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere rise, the planet's densely populated tropical regions will most likely experience severe water shortages as the crucial summer monsoons become drier. The Pitt team found that equatorial regions of South America already are receiving less rainfall than at any point in the past millennium. Source

The following quote is extracted from a major study done just a few years ago by the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment. The summary of its findings can be read in that link, it's in a pdf titled "Living Beyond our Means". If you have the time to peruse it, it will shock you.

The state of play with the world’s rivers is even more worrying. Seventy major rivers are, according to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, near maximum extraction including the Colorado, the Yellow River, the Nile, the Ganges, the Jordan and the Euphrates. In 1997, the Yellow River, for example, was dry nearly 600km inland for almost a full year. The Murray Darling River in Australia no longer makes it to the sea. The situation will dramatically worsen in years to come. According to the IPCC in its 4th Assessment Report of 2008, by mid-century annual average river runoff and water availability will have decreased by an additional 10-30% in many regions.

A quick reminder: causes of water scarcity

        Population growth
        Food production
        Climatic change and variability
        Land use
        Water quality
        Water demand
        Sectoral resources and institutional capacity
        Poverty and economic policy
        Legislation and water resource management
        International waters
        Sectoral professional capacity
        Political realities
        Sociological issues

The map below is from Drought Monitor. It is interative and updated daily.

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And finally, a message from our sponsor:

Water use has been growing at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century, and, although there is no global water scarcity as such, an increasing number of regions are chronically short of
water. By 2025, 1 800 million people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world population could be under stress conditions. The situation will be exacerbated as rapidly growing urban areas place heavy pressure on neighbouring water resources.

Originally posted to Patric Juillet on Sat Jun 04, 2011 at 11:29 AM PDT.

Also republished by Environmental Foodies and DK GreenRoots.

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