Water Supply: Efforts to Act Locally and Globally


This evening, Lanya Ross is talking at the Andover (MN) Senior Center about “Water Supply Sustainability in the North Metro.” The League of Women Voters is hosting the program.

Illustration by Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Ross is principal environmental scientist with the Metropolitan Council, the regional planning agency of the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Andover’s a suburb. Ross is explaining the council’s regional analysis of the cumulative and long-term impacts of the seven-county metropolitan area’s water-use choices.

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This is good. Water use is a subject local communities should be examining worldwide. Why?

Peculiar Progressive explained in a CFR column last year how water is one of the five vital issues presidential candidates wouldn’t touch during their national conventions. But the public IS touching it, with vigor.

In Hawaii last week, conservationists, biologists and volunteers trekked the Walanae Mountains to reintroduce the rain forests to native plants, and help preserve the area’s fresh water.

In San Francisco, the nonprofit group SPUR recently issued a report on how to meet the bay area’s water-supply needs in the 21st century.

Two telling global analyses came out recently:

First, The World Economic Forum released its Global Risks 2013, listing its top five risks by likelihood and impact and 50 overall risks. Water supply crises ranked fourth by likelihood and second by impact. The report can be valuable for its emphasis on interconnecting risks ranging from economy to climate. However, the 80-page analysis can bog one down with data and charts weaving together issues.

Second, just over a week ago, the New York Academy of Sciences presented a panel to answer the question, “Where’s the water of the future?”

“There is no secret source of water of the future,” was the panelists’ summary. “Conservation is the best answer.”

Meanwhile, two news reports this past week looked at a pair of the globe’s largest areas. In “Aspiring Africa,” The Economist magazine reports that the world’s poorest continent is bustling in some areas economically and politically. But water problems loom:

About a third of Africa’s GDP growth comes from commodities. This will not last. Today’s prices are near record highs and commodity markets have a habit of collapsing. Furthermore, recent gains in agricultural commodities may be undermined by climate change. Even now, savannahs are drying out, water tables are dropping and rains either failing or becoming more irregular. One in five Africans will be directly affected by 2020. Even as their continent prospers, many of them will continue to depend on agriculture and there is little they can do about the threats to the world’s environment.

Further east, China Daily on March 7 headlined “Droughts raise water concerns,” explaining:

Regular droughts in winter, spring and early summer started in 2009 and have continued to affect rural and mountainous areas of Southwest China this year, reshaping the lifestyles of people and causing a major shift in the agricultural industry.

The report notes in one of the heaviest-hit areas:

The lingering drought has hit 15 cities and autonomous prefectures in Yunnan [a province bordering Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam], affecting 5.58 million people, according to the latest provincial civil affairs department statistics, and of those, 1.2 million face drinking water shortages.

This year’s drought has also caused the loss of more than 557,000 hectares of crops, with 70,000 hectares of land facing complete crop failures – an estimated economic loss of up to 2.77 billion yuan ($445.4 million), authorities said.

Officials both in Africa and China are struggling to provide short-term relief and are yet to find long-term answers.