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The Alarming Forecast for Freshwater

The Looming Water Shortage
A quiet but daunting water crisis has already begun around the globe, according to water experts Mike Hightower and Suzanne Pierce at the U.S. Department of Energy"s Sandia Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico. And the predicament will only worsen in the not-too-distant future.
By the year 2025, more than half the nations in the world will face freshwater stress or shortages, and by 2050 as much as 75 percent of the world"s population could face freshwater scarcity. The experts chronicled their findings in a March 2008 Nature article at
"This growing international water crisis is forcing governments to rethink how they value and use and manage water, especially because economic development hinges on water availability,- the scientists declared. "Drinking water supplies, agriculture, energy production and generation, mining, and industry all require large quantities of water.  In the future, these sectors will be competing for increasingly limited freshwater resources, making water supply availability a major economic driver in the 21st century.-
Freshwater withdrawals already exceed precipitation in many parts of the U.S., with the worst deficits often in areas with the fastest growing population, particularly in the southwest.  Yet, the problem is not confined to the U.S. ... it is truly an international predicament.
No Easy Answers
What is the solution to a global water shortage? The answer is complicated and will involve using all water sources, not just freshwater supplies. Ground-breaking treatments will have to be used, such as advanced membrane separation technologies, and treatment of nontraditional water sources such as wastewater, brackish groundwater, seawater, and extracted mine water.
To some extent, alternate supplies are already being used.  In the United States, wastewater reuse is growing by 15 percent per year.
"There are other, cheaper ways to increase water productivity, such as improving water conservation and efficiency,- Hightower and Pierce said in the article. "But water reuse can help to expand these traditional approaches by matching the quality of water supplies to needs, and substituting nontraditional water for freshwater where appropriate.-
For example, wastewater, sea water and brackish groundwater could be used by electric power plants for cooling and processing instead of freshwater.  Technologies to condense evaporation from cooling towers and capture and reuse the water could be introduced. Or power plants can switch to renewable energy technologies that do not need water for cooling, such as wind and solar electric. 
No matter what quasi-solutions are found, in just a short time, the billions of inhabitants of this world will look back and wonder why they did not start water conservation efforts sooner.

By Adam Herschkowitz
Get Hydrology Jobs, Contributing Editor


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