Depletion of these sources of freshwater include one off natural events, and more permanent problems like overpopulation and climate change (plus other factors).
Dry countries with hotter climates, and lower income countries with water access issues in particular face big freshwater issues that cause a severe impact on people, the economy, animals and the natural environment.
We’ve collated some of the best and most innovative ideas being used, or that might be worth developing further to solve issues like freshwater depletion, scarcity, stress and shortages.
Let’s take a look
Summary – Solutions To Freshwater Depletion
Some of the biggest positive changes might be see by addressing:
- The Agricultural, Industrial & Household sectors – the three main areas we use freshwater in society
- Population growth – more people means more demand for water directly, and also for all the indirect uses of water such as growing food, manufacturing products, producing energy, and running households
- Capture waste/sewage/industrial/energy production/agricultural and household water, treat it, and re-use/recycle it where possible – waste water and grey water re-use and recycling, once treated, is one of the biggest potential ways to make better use of the water we use
- Find more ways to capture/harvest rainwater – increased harvesting rainwater on farms, industrially, and at the household level, can give us more access to freshwater
- Improve irrigation efficiency in agriculture – like for example drip irrigation and installing timers and sensors on irrigation systems. Making irrigation more efficient, and addressing water waste via irrigation, can save a lot of water
- Improve industrial/commercial and energy production water efficiency – these two sectors use farm more water than the household sector. Becoming more efficient in these sectors can provide significant returns
- Reduce water waste, especially from water pipes and water infrastructure – at the household level, more water is wasted BEFORE it gets to our houses. Upgrading and improving water pipes and water infrastructure is one way to address this, as well as installing more water pipe damage software and sensors – just as some examples
- Explore how to be more energy efficient with water desalination (and less costly) – desalination is currently very energy intensive and expensive. Reducing energy consumptions requirements (and cost) for desalination, or developing technology that allows desalination to occur with sustainable energy and green energy would go a long way to addressing this
- Address water pollution – water pollution and contamination reduces the overall amount of freshwater available to our growing populations
- Consider the impact of climate change on natural water replenishment – climate and temperature impacts the natural water replenishment cycle via evaporation, precipitation and so on
Specific Ways To Address Freshwater Depletion
Per CircleOfBlue.org (note: we’ve paraphrased the descriptions):
… Population growth, urban development, farm production and climate change are increasing competition for fresh water and producing shortages.
Here’s a look at the first 19 areas where experts feel needed solutions will come.
[these are areas where solutions for coping with water scarcity in business and industry may come based on a] … poll of more than 1200 leading international experts in 80 countries)
1. Educate people on the various water issues, and help people change consumption habits
Educate people on how important water is, how much of it we have, how much to use, where we use it and the consequences if we don’t address the issue and become sustainable with our use of it.
Specifically we want to educate people, and motivate them to change their behavior when it comes to consuming water
At all levels, and across the sections of society where we use the most water, we have to change consumption habits
We’ve got to use less water, and/or use water more efficiently
2. Invest in new water conservation technologies
Groundwater is drying up, and rainfalls are becoming inconsistent
Manufacturing equipment, waste water capture and re-use equipment, household equipment – all use water
Invest in technology that saves, re captures, cleans and re-uses water
Make sure new technologies are energy efficient, as energy use with water conservation or purification tech can be an issue
3. Recycle waste water
From industries, agriculture and households
Find a way to treat waste water and re-use/recycle it. Some places like Singapore are trying to find ways to treat and recycle wastewater for drinking for example
4. Improve agricultural and irrigation practices
These activities use a lot of water – up to 70% of total usage in some countries
Getting more efficient, using less water, and growing/producing different foods and crops can help
We can either create new practices and technology, or improve existing ones (such as existing irrigation technology – like they’ve done in California)
5. Increase the price of water
If we stop making non drinking fresh water so cheap – maybe we can make people and businesses use less of it
It may also decrease water waste and pollution
6. Develop energy efficient water desalination
Desalination uses ALOT of energy – this is one of the major drawbacks to it
Considering 97% of the world’s water is saline water – if we get this technology right – it opens things up a lot
Renewable energy desalination plants are a good option – such as solar powered plants
Having said this – a country needs money in the first place to experiment with this type of technology, so it’s not an option for low income countries
7. Improve water catchment and harvesting
Water catchment and water harvesting can help us catch more freshwater that falls on the land and on structures
The more water we catch and harvest, the more we have available to use. You see this in dams that get extended
This is important for places struck by climate change, places with irregular rainfall, and places with low freshwater supplies
8. Look to community based governments and partnerships
Local governments and communities have power to empower people at a grassroots level
It can filter up to the national level when change occurs here
9. Develop, enact and maintain better laws and regulations
There’s the Clean Water Act in the US for example – which the US government is thinking of expanding
Whatever the case, national and state governments worldwide have an important part to play with both legislature, and their policies and decisions on how to manage freshwater sources
Many people believe it’s the government’s responsibility to provide us with freshwater
10. Holistically manage ecosystems
We are talking about economic, cultural, and ecological systems
This is making systems work together instead of just on their own
Good examples of holistic management are communities that operate sewage treatment plants while pursuing partnerships with clean energy producers to use wastewater to fertilize algae and other biofuel crops.
The crops, in turn, soak up nutrients and purify wastewater, significantly reducing pumping and treatment costs.
11. Improve distribution infrastructure
Poor water infrastructure can cause health, pollution/contamination and economic problems
We are talking about pipe bursts, lack of treatment facilities, sewage and wastewater overflows and malfunction
12. Shrink corporate water footprints
We are talking about producing products and goods, and sustainable manufacturing
Business activity and industrial activity (factories, manufacturing facilities etc.) uses up a large amount of water
Bottled water is one industry that is highly questioned – if we improve drinking water infrastructure – why do we need bottled water in the first place? Why don’t people refill their existing water bottles?
13. Build international frameworks and institutional cooperation
Work together to have better binding watter agreements and behaviors between countries
Hold each other to higher standards
Regional agreements regarding transboundary or shared water bodies, and treaties need more attention
14. Address water pollution (and contamination)
We are specifically talking about creating and maintaining better water quality
Poor water quality leads to human health and biodiversity issues
Contamination includes things like bacteria – E coli is an example
Pollution includes things like oil pollution, agricultural pollution and wastewater and sewage pollution
15. Public common resources/equitable access
Access to drinking water has to be a right for everyone in every country
Governments need to find a way to do this at least, even if water use for other purposes isn’t as efficient as it can be
The water crisis in lower income countries shows us what happens when drinking water is hard to come by or access
Public private partnerships between business and governments
One example— cities that operate sewage treatment plants are likely to pursue partnerships with clean energy producers to fertilize algae and other biofuel crops with wastewater.
17. Water projects in developing countries/transfer of technology
Climate change and water scarcity are producing the most dramatic consequences in developing regions
One proposed solution is to transfer water conservation technologies from developed countries to these dry areas.
Doing so is tricky because economies are weak and there are gaps in skills that often compel government and business authorities to impose these changes on local citizens.
18. Climate change mitigation
Climate change (greenhouse gases in particular) and water scarcity go hand-in-hand
As renewable energy options are pursued, the water consumption of these mitigation tactics must be considered in producing alternatives ranging from bio-energy crops to hydropower and solar power plants.
19. Population growth control
Because of the accelerating growth in global population, parts of the world could see a supply-demand gap of up to 65 percent in water resources by 2030.
Currently, more than one billion people don’t have access to clean water.
And with 70 percent of the world’s freshwater used for agriculture, water’s critical role in food production must be considered as climate and resource conditions change.
1. Solar Powered Water Purifiers
Make more contaminated water drinkable
Use zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in containers that expose it to ultraviolet radiation and cleanse the water – making it suitable to drink
2. Water leak software and monitors
Almost a third of water is wasted even before it reaches a home – at failed and leaking pipelines. And, then obviously at the household level there can be over usage and wastage.
Water leak monitors and software with a central operating hub/control centre can help against this.
3. Replacing water cleaning, with CO2 cleaning
We use a lot of water in cleaning in manufacturing
To give you an idea of how much, manufacturing a car requires nearly 40,000 gallons of water
CO2 cleaning involves the use of carbon dioxide in solid form, highly propelled dry ice particles out of a nozzle to clean a variety of different surfaces.
The technology can be used for composite aircraft and automotive structures, cleaning complex medical equipment, and dry cleaning operations in an eco-friendly way.
The CO2 required for these machines is recycled from other industrial uses, so not only does it contribute to solving the water shortage crisis, but also helps with climate change.
4. Lifesaver bottles
For emergencies and short term water issues.
It’s a special bottle that can instantly make water potable. It uses a pump to push the water through a 15-nanometer filter which cleans it of any bacteria or viruses.
Has a low financial and environmental cost
5. Improving shower water saving technology
Technology that helps shower water heat up quicker, and technology that collects wasted cold water and refilters it in at the right temperature
6. Showering without water
A lotion has been made that has a blend of chemicals that get rid of odors, bioflavonoids and essential oils. The lotion can be applied right onto the skin and is as effective as taking a regular shower.
Dry Bathing can help save 4 liters of water per person which can add up to many millions every single year and help billions of people who don’t have access to water stay clean and avoid the life-threatening bacteria that’s often found in the stagnant water some of these people use to bathe.
The 2030 Water Resources Group has brought together case studies from around the world of currently available, replicable and practical solutions for water use transformation.
Some of these solutions include:
- Waterless dying technology in textile processing
- Installation of soil moisture monitoring system to improve productivity
- Resource efficient cleaner production in sugar factories
- Balancing supply and demand through water metering
- Public private partnerships for water system upgrades
- Partnerships for cleaner textile production
- Institutional reform in irrigation management
- Reducing the cost of water re-use in the textile sector
- Integrated irrigation modernisation projects
- Basin based approach for groundwater management
- Innovative financing arrangements
- Active supply chain management in the textile industry
- Effluent treatment and aquifer storage for agricultural use
- Innovative PPP to improve water quality and availability
- Corporate water efficiency targets in the mining industry
- Reducing water use in fish and seafood processing
- Zero liquid discharge and water reuse at a coal power plant
- PPP to address regional water issues
- Adapting to water scarcity at farm level
- Community implemented aquifer recharge scheme
- Institutional capacity building approach to managing industrial water use
- Integrated water resource management in agriculutre
- Water management in copper and gold mines
- Reuse of municipal effluent at a petrochemical complex
- New water from fog catchingReducing water and energy consumption in a chemical plant
- Satellite based spatial data to aid in irrigation
- Micro irrigation for food security
- Creation of ‘new water’ from saline aquifer
- High frequency intermittent drip irrigation
- Water free milk powder factory
- Maximising water reuse at a brewery
- Social norms based customer engagement on water efficiency
- Installation of drip irrigation systems
- Emergency response to drought crisis
- Air flow dyeing machines in textile production
- Water use reduction strategy in food sector
- Water reuse in the textile sector
- Water reuse in the power and steel production sector
- Water recycling in the food sector
- Water recycling in paper production
- Water reclamation for reuse and groundwater recharge
- Water optimisation in the mining sector
- Use of seawater in dual municipal water supply
- Regional water conservation program
- Wastewater reclamation and reuse network
- Water loss management programs
- Water efficiency audits of steam systems
- Reducing water losses in a large distribution network
- Water demand management strategy
- Water demand management scheme
- Reducing business risk through municipal leakage reduction
- Water authority conservation program
- Pressure management in municipalities
- Wastewater reclamation to meet potable water demand
- Pilot low cost irrigation scheduling
- Managing evapotranspiration using quotas
- Mine water recycling
- Leakage reduction in primary schools
- Leakage reduction in cities
- Metering of non revenue water
- Irrigation scheduling in grape farming
- Managing water towards zero discharge
- Irrigation optimisation
- Irrigation network renewal
- Irrigation management
- Integrated watershed management
- Improving water availability through wastewater treatment
- Improved water management for sugar cane production
- Improved water distribution management
- Groundwater recharge
- Groundwater conservation
- Emergency water demand management
- Domestic and business retrofit project
- Direct dry cooling in the power sector
- Behavioral change initiative
- Aquifer recharge with stormwater
- Advanced pressure management
- Farmers are partnering with scientists and conservationists to recharge groundwater by inundating farm fields with wintertime floodwater, which then seeps through the soil to the aquifer below
- … Another neglected water source can be found right below our feet. The world’s soils can hold eight times more water than all rivers combined, yet agricultural practices deplete soils, causing that critical water reservoir to shrink. But this can be fixed by rebuilding soil health.
- By eliminating tillage and planting cover crops, farmers can build the soil’s carbon content and enable it to store more water. Even a one percentage-point increase in soil organic carbon can increase water-holding capacity by some 18,000 gallons per acre. Yet farmers plant cover crops on less than 3% of US farmland and practice conservation agriculture on only about seven percent of cropland worldwide.
Further Ideas & Solutions
1. Consider changing our production and purchasing habits
Specifically with food and clothing.
Meat production, and cotton plants for example use a lot of water.
Switching to vegetarian diets, and switching to bamboo, hemp, lyocell and similar less water intensive fabrics – can all help.
2. Decrease water contamination, and invest more cheap/efficient water contamination technology
Water contamination, particularly with E coli and bacteria, is a big problem
If we can decrease contamination (protect water sources better) and get better at treating water contamination in it – more water will be available in contaminated water sources
3. Decrease water pollution
Mostly pollution from agriculture (fertiliser, herbicide and pesticide) and waste water and sewage treatment pollutes water
Decrease this pollution, and get better at cleaning up pollution