water solutions

How Big Water Problems Are Sometimes Solved

Issues surrounding water flow even freer than the resource itself. With droughts hindering US states and fueling conflict globally, it’s important not only to understand why these problems persist, but to explore viable solutions.

Already, there’s a grimness to water outlook: with populations rising and resources dwindling, over one billion people could be without adequate drinking water by 2025. Even those with drinking water may face cutbacks, if not wars over it (it wouldn’t be the first time).

Here are tried-and-tested solutions to our biggest water concerns to date, and how effective they could be in the future.

Problem: Drought

[contextly_auto_sidebar id=”WQQBRXpRsNMyDeWR6iHQKFllfyTTI3oP”]Solution: Desalination, Wastewater recycling

When it worked: Israel, one of the driest regions in the world, has suffered from severe water shortages for decades. But after building four desalination plants, which turn ocean water into fresh water by reverse-osmosis (providing 40 percent of Israel’s supply), the crisis is over. Israel is also a world leader in recycling wastewater, with 86 percent of domestic wastewater recycled for agriculture.

Will it work again? It’s worth noting that Israel is a tiny country; about the size of New Jersey. So the solutions that worked for the Middle Eastern country are unlikely to scale to the size of, say, California, where environmental and energy concerns would make desalination less than worthwhile.

But even CA can learn from Israel’s example, if not immediately through desalination (plants are in progress, but are viewed as a last resort), through painstakingly careful allocation of resources, water-saving irrigation methods, and wastewater recycling techniques.

Problem: Unclean water

Solution: Improving infrastructure

When it worked: Today, 700 million people are without clean drinking water, a number that is only expected to rise as populations grow. Even so, great progress has been made: according to the UN, 2 billion people have gained access to safe drinking water since 1990, through infrastructure improvements regarding wells, rainwater catchment systems, and storage tanks.

Will it work again? There’s a long way to go, and many still to reach that suffer from water scarcity, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. The UN’s goals, global partnerships, and dozens of charity groups aim to aid water-scarce regions with better infrastructure along with water-recycling technology, but the real challenge will be making it accessible amidst political tensions, conflict, wealth gaps, and difficult-to-reach regions.

Problem: Water wars

Solution: Water-sharing deals

When it worked: When countries share transboundary waters, it can be a source of either conflict, cooperation, or both. Historically, water-sharing deals date back centuries as ways to Back to the Middle East — Israel and other water-scarce nations have, in the past, traversed fighting between nations over water access by signing cooperative agreements.

Will it work again? Between nations — even those that do conflict with one another, like Israel and Palestine — water-sharing deals can be helpful means to harbor stability. But an increasing worry about water wars, which such deals can’t solve, is the involvement of terrorism.

With extremist groups like ISIS seizing dams and power, experts warn it to be more likely than ever in the next 10 years that water in shared basins be used as weapons to further terrorist objectives.

We measure success by the understanding we deliver. If you could express it as a percentage, how much fresh understanding did we provide?
Jennifer Markert