How To Address The Issue Of Water Shortages: Planning, Prevention & Solutions

How To Address The Issue Of Water Shortages: Planning, Prevention & Solutions

It is expected that demand for water is only going to increase worldwide in the future.

With this being the case, all cities need to be aware of how to address the issue of water shortages.

In this guide, we look at planning for, prevention of, and solutions to a water shortage situation facing a particular city or region.


Water Shortages, Water Supply & Water Related Issues Are Unique To Each Area, & Require A Multi Faceted Approach

Every city, town or region ultimately faces different variables with their water supply situation.

For example, some cities are more dependent on rainfall to top up water supply, whilst others have abundant water supplies and aren’t so dependent. Cape Town is an example of a city who was dependent on rainfall to top up their dams, and experienced a severe drought – which led to a water shortage

Therefore, each city, town or region needs to do their own assessment/audit to figure out how to best plan for, prevent and solve any water supply issues they may face in the short or long term future.

This involves daily actions like adhering to per person daily water usage limits, or other solutions such as increasing the total water supply.

The residential, agricultural, and industrial/commercial sectors all need to make changes to their water usage habits (as these are the three sectors that use water).

There also needs to be a reliable and efficient water planning authority, government and water suppliers in place to ensure water supply issues are minimised, or to ensure new water projects to increase water supply capacity get done on time and to budget, and make sense short and long term.

Water supply is therefore a multi level issue that requires a multi level approach to address.


How To Address The Issue Of Water Shortages

Once city or town planners have assessed the factors and variables unique to their area – they need to plan, and put in place prevention and solution strategies/action to manage water shortages, and other water crisis issues.

There’s really two things you can focus on:

  • You can either increase current water supply capacity e.g. build extra dams to support existing ones
  • or, reduce/restrict water usage across the different sectors to preserve the current water supply 
  • … you can also pursue both concurrently


Specific Factors To Consider To Address Water Shortages – Prevention, Solutions & Planning Factors

  • Understand that as the population of an area grows, so does demand placed on the water supply. So, a growing population means you certainly need to look at increasing water supply capacity
  • Cities must assess their current water supply – what is their capacity, how much is available to them or being shared by other cities or regions, how much is contaminated or polluted (are you treating this water?)? This will enable them to get an idea of whether to look for increased capacity, or alternate water sources to draw from.
  • Clearing up water pollution and contamination (and unhealthy and unsafe or dirty water) is another way to increase the supply of clean, safe freshwater in places like rivers, lakes and other contaminated water sources. Contamination can happen via depletion of groundwater leading to saline water, fertilizer and pesticide run off, not treating waste water before it’s dumped into rivers and lakes, and so on – so these areas and other areas need to be addressed
  • Consider forming relationships with surrounding states, towns, cities etc. to buy water supplies from them in the event of water shortages in your state
  • How much rainwater the area gets, how dependent they are on it to top up their water supply, and what rainfall looks like into the future. Will rainfall stay consistent, or will there be a drought? How long will the drought last for and when is it likely to hit?
  • Is climate change or an increasing average Earth surface temperature likely to increase the risk of severe droughts, change weather patterns in the area, or changes rainfall patterns for that matter? If so, how will you adapt to that? Also, what are you doing in the area to decrease carbon and GHG emissions to minimise the risk of climate change?
  • Consider the direct and indirect water footprints of the different sectors of a city, and also the internal as well as exported/invisible water footprint. For example, there is direct water use of households, but also indirect water footprints of things like foods and textiles, as well as water used for products exported by a city (which doesn’t show up in direct water use). All water footprints – visible and invisible – need to be assessed when being withdrawn from the available water supply
  • Growing or producing foods in ways that use less water (lab grown meat could be one alternative, along with genetic engineering of seeds and crops), producing less water hungry fibres (alternatives to cotton which is very water hungry), and finding ways to cut down on water use or water waste in industrial and residential sectors (cutting down on food waste would decrease our indirect water footprint in our homes) are ways to cut our indirect water footprints
  • Consider the water limitations and restrictions placed on citizens, farmers and the industrial/commercial sector. Consider that the recommended daily per person water limit is suggested at around 50 litres a day
  • Consider a progressive water tariff system and fining system for high volume water users – keep them accountable for using a precious resource. 
  • Consider water meters installed for all those who are using the public water supply. Consider cutting off water supply when a max limit is exceeded
  • Review all water laws, by-laws, regulations and legal requirements to make sure they keep everyone compliant with water usage guidelines
  • Make sure water efficient fittings are installed in houses
  • Make sure water efficient systems are installed in industrial and commercial complexes, and grey water is being re-used and recycled where possible
  • Cities must look at their water supply infrastructure – fix leaks, and ensure it’s functioning efficiently and is reliable. Upgrade the infrastructure to minimize water waste
  • Consider plants in the area that are water hungry and might be sucking up the water supply from dams and other water sources – consider elimination of plant species that are a threat to water conservation and water supplies
  • Identify energy plants that consume water resources to cool down turbines etc. – make sure water re-use and recycling is occuring to minimise water usage
  • Consider existing demand vs supply capacity of the city, and look at water supply level trends – if they keep dropping year on year – something needs to be done to increase water supply capacity
  • City planners, government, and water authorities all need to be planning and be on the same page to implement prevention and solution strategies. Policies and water usage schemes need to be geared towards sustainable water use
  • Consider financing capability of the city into the future – what is your budget? What can you afford and not afford?
  • Consider political stability of the city in the future – will there be dysfunction and corruption, or will projects be able to get done? If political parties are corrupt or trying to sabotage each other, water projects and water conservation can suffer
  • Consider the use of private water wells and boreholes to access groundwater if infrastructure is poor
  • Consider the use of water desalination plants (although can be complex and costly)
  • Consider more private harvesting and capturing of rainwater to save public water supply. And, capture more rainwater in general in catchment dams etc.
  • Consider emergency bottled water services into the city
  • Review overall water recycling and grey water re-use strategies (particularly in factories, the industrial sector, and energy plants)
  • Have a water emergency plan with levels of restrictions – Level 1 through 7. Increase restrictions as water supply levels decrease
  • Decide what Day Zero is for your city – at what water supply level will you shut off municipal water supplies?
  • Prioritize the most important water uses in your city – and direct water to those uses which are most important first (drinking water), while restricting others (like washing a car)
  • Have more free water conservation material and education available for citizens, businesses and farmers
  • Consider buying additional water supplies from other cities and transporting it to your water supply source. Or, pay to have consistent access to other cities’ water supplies. Understand though that water usually can’t be transported long distances
  • Consider the cost, and challenges to each water solution or strategy – is it sustainable short and long term?
  • Consider regulation of pooled common water resources to make sure everyone is responsibly withdrawing at a fair rate
  • Encourage water efficient farming with more water efficient use of irrigation water and use of new agricultural technology (night-time irrigation, mulching and concentrating water around the trees’ roots systems also helps)
  • Consider metered and monitored water supply to farmers, and shared irrigation distribution schemes in place
  • Consider experimental ideas for water supply including shade balls, cloud seeding, harvesting water from the air, and towing icebergs from Antarctica (just to name a few)
  • Understand the overall importance of freshwater  – Water has health, economic, social, environmental and other types of impact. Every £1 invested in clean water yields at least £4 in economic returns. Better access to water creates a society that is freed up in many ways. (
  • Look at examples of cities with low or unpredictable rainfall, that are traditionally drought stricken or dry cities, with growing populations, and see what they are doing to prevent water shortages – Perth, Western Australia is one example of this


Which Cities Are Most Likely To Run Out Of Water In The Future, Or Experience A Water Shortage?

  • New Delhi and Hyderabad in India, Beijing, among other Chinese cities, Jakarta, Singapore and Sydney in the Asia-Pacific region, Brussels and Rome in Europe, along with San Francisco and the Manhattan area in the U.S. are some of those with relatively high water risks



  • Sao Paulo, Bangalore, Beijing, Cairo, Jakarta, Moscow, Istanbul, Mexico City, London, Tokyo and Miami are also cities identified as being at higher risk of running out of water in the future



Although, it should be noted some of these cities have been working on addressing that water risk to various extents.











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