by Rachel Finan, student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies
Experts predict that by 2025 Sana’a, Yemen will become the first capital city to run out of water. They predict that by 2030 India will need to double its water-generation capacity or face the same fate, and water supplies in Istanbul, one of the world’s largest cities, is at just 28 percent. Yet before any of those cities run dry (in far off developing countries that most people in the United States associate with water scarcity issues), it could be a U.S. city that runs out of water. And it’s not just the usual suspects in the Southwest who face increasingly serious water concerns. Miami, FL is the second-most vulnerable U.S. city in a drought according to a University of Florida Environmental Hydrology Laboratory study. Cities such as Cleveland, OH; Chicago, IL; and New York, NY follow not far behind.
Just last February, California state officials announced that 17 communities and water districts could run out of water in as little as 100 days. In Texas, that number more than doubles. Earlier this year state officials reported 48 communities were within 90 days of water interruptions; as of August 20th, there are 27 communities on that list. One small town in TX reportedly already has run dry.
This begs an obvious question; what are we doing about it? Additionally, what should we be doing about it – not just as a temporary fix, but as a long-term, strategic response? What would you do if water stopped coming out of your tap? Imagine if your town was one of the California or Texas communities with only 90 days of water left. As an EDF Climate Corps fellow, I’ve spent the last several weeks contemplating these questions and identifying opportunities for Texas-based institutions to not only conserve water, but to save money while doing so. I’ve been inspired by many examples throughout the state.
Beer lovers – now that I have your attention – let’s talk water. Nowhere in the country is water more critical an issue and looming risk than in my home state of California… critical to farmers, utilities, businesses, and yes, even breweries.
Officials touring San Luis Reservoir in 2013, which supplies water to Silicon Valley, is at historic low levels, only 17% full. (Source: Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group)
The current drought has brought a host of challenges for our growing state, including more wildfires, collapsing delta ecosystems and fisheries, decaying infrastructure and declining water quality. While California is on track to reduce carbon pollution due to our progressive climate and energy policies, our water challenges are the elephant in the room.
So it was inspiring to attend a daylong event convened by the Pacific Institute in Los Angeles, where leading corporate, nonprofit and technical water experts honed in on water stewardship and shared innovative solutions to the business and environmental challenges we face with regard to water scarcity.
The companies represented there – including AT&T, Deloitte, MillerCoors and Veolia – see water scarcity as a current business risk, as well as a critical component to economic growth in California, the Colorado River Basin and around the world. The World Economic Forum even ranked water crises as the third most pressing global risk for 2014. “Often, the greatest risks come from conditions over which the company has the least influence,” noted Jason Morrison of the Pacific Institute, whose Water Action Hub offers a powerful guide with tools and resources for collective action.
The day’s far-reaching discussion would be impossible to capture in a single blog post, so I'll highlight here just a few of the challenges and solutions that stuck with me after a full day of information sharing.