Water Management

Water Management

Toward a Water Secure Planet

There is no one optimal path to a one optimal future, say in 2050. There are many paths to many “desirable” futures. But it is hard to imagine any of those futures not having to deal with water scarcity. This will particularly apply in emerging countries, such as China and India that together by 2050 will represent about one third of the world’s population.

A feature of any “desirable” future will surely be the existence of healthy ecosystems. Living ecosystems require water. Other demands for water have often been considered to be at odds with the need for water to maintain the life of ecosystems. In addition to the need to allocate water for the maintenance of ecosystems, we will need to eliminate the discharges of human and industrial wastewaters that are being discharged into the environment often without concern for their effects on ecosystems. In short, we will have to determine how to stop depriving ecosystems of water that is essential to life and poisoning them with waste will impinge on human life and development. We do not need more research to tell us this. We can benefit from more research into how this can be accomplished effectively and efficiently.

To ensure that there will be sufficient water to feed a growing and wealthier population, to sustain vital life support systems, and to produce and distribute enough other goods and services, it will be essential to achieve “more crop per drop,” “more jobs per drop,” “better environment per drop,” “improved nutrition per drop,” among many such goals. Current trends imply that we could be heading toward using more rather than less drops per job, or per given state of the environment, or per given level of nutrition, unless we work together to reverse this increase. Meeting unmet and growing human needs and escalating wants is a mounting challenge. To consider this and at the same time sustain the functioning of water (fresh and brackish/marine) and terrestrial ecosystems is another major challenge.

Current and future challenges

Water distinguishes our planet compared to all the others we know about. While the global supply of available freshwater is more than adequate to meet all current and foreseeable water demands, its spatial and temporal distributions are not. There are many regions where our freshwater resources are inadequate to meet domestic, economic development and environmental needs. In such regions, the lack of adequate clean water to meet human drinking water and sanitation needs is indeed a constraint on human health and productivity and hence on economic development as well as on the maintenance of a clean environment and healthy ecosystems. All of us involved in research must find ways to remove these constraints. We face multiple challenges in doing that, especially given a changing and uncertain future climate, and a rapidly growing population that is driving increased social and economic development, globalization, and urbanization. How best to meet these challenges requires research in all aspects of water management.