Water: Too Much or too Little?
There’s no doubt that water is important.
Not only is it vital for life, but it is required to grow crops, manufacture goods, and maintain clean and safe cities and communities. With climate change, however, the amount of water in different locations is changing. In general, areas that are dry are becoming drier and areas that are wet are becoming wetter. This trend is causing major, extended droughts in some regions while others are seeing a greater number of floods. This not only puts stress on the local communities but also the rest of the world, as people will have to relocate to find new sources of water.
As if increasing temperatures and rising sea levels weren’t enough, the amount of rain and snow in different areas is also changing due to climate change. Arid regions are receiving less water, which is already evident in the western United States. The Rocky Mountain states rely on snow for more than just their ski industry. While this industry provides a large contribution to the economy, many cities also rely on the annual snowmelt as a primary water source. Precipitation has been decreasing recently and less of it is falling as snow. This leads to a smaller amount of melt running into reservoirs and available water for irrigating crops. To compensate for the inadequate amount of snow melt, many regions have been using groundwater. Over half of the United States population relies on ground water for drinking, and many agricultural regions use it to water crops. As groundwater becomes depleted, wells will begin to dry up, water quality will become worse, surface water will lower, and people will have to spend more money to access the remaining groundwater.
We can see another example of climate change impacts on water by looking to South Africa, where the city of Cape Town has experienced a drastic water shortage due to an extended drought. Three years of below average rainfall has resulted in a strict water limit of thirteen gallons per person per day. This has happened in other large cities as well, such as Sao Paulo, Barcelona, and Rome. In fact, it is estimated that four billion people live in areas that have one month of water stress or more. This means that in a year, there is at least one month where the amount of water available for use is low. When major metropolitan areas begin running out of water, large amounts of people will be forced to move. This may cause a refugee crisis across the planet as millions of people begin relocating from water-depleted areas to other regions with more water. Depending on the locations that people choose to resettle, those regions could then face water shortages due to the increased number of occupants.
One way that water stressed regions manage their limited water supply is through regulations. As mentioned above, Cape Town already restricted residents to thirteen gallons per person per day. Showering is limited to twice a week. Another country with water restrictions is Australia. This includes things like limiting the amount of water used to fill pools, regulating who can wash cars and commercial vehicles, banning the watering of lawns, and restricting the times and days gardens can be watered. California is looking to permanently implement restrictions following a recent previous drought. This includes the banning of unnecessary watering, washing cars, and forcing hotels to ensure whether or not guests need their towels and sheets replaced. As droughts in these regions become more common, so will restrictions on water usage.
Fresh water is arguably the most important resource on the planet, and as it becomes scarcer, people will be forced to either adapt or move to different locations. There are ways to prevent this from happening, however. Ending wasteful practices in areas with limited water will prevent drastic water shortages. This includes not watering lawns, filling pools only when needed, and planting local vegetation that does not require watering. Local and federal governments can implement regulations that limit water use, both private and municipal. Passing less invasive regulations now could prevent much stricter laws being required in the future.
Although there are solutions to depleting water resources, the easiest solution is to avoid the problem altogether. Reducing climate change impacts through our actions is by far the best way to tackle the water issue. Lowering our carbon input into the atmosphere will lower the increase in temperature, and therefore, the dramatic shifts in rain and snowfall totals across the world.