SDG6: Water is life. Peak water. Peak life.

In 1956 science (Hubert) estimated that oil production in the United States would peak between 1965 and 1970. The science was right. In 1970, US oil production reached a maximum and began to decline (Gleick & Palaniappan, 2010).

The term peak refers to the year when the maximum rate of extraction is reached, after which it is expected to enter terminal decline. If the current rate of extraction continues, peak water will become inevitable.  

Global climate change is gradually reducing available water resources but at the same time creating greater demand — this is not a sustainable situation leading to PEAK WATER” alerts N.H. Gray, in Facing Up to Global Warming. He refers to the point when the rate of water demand exceeds the rate at which water resources used for supply can be replenished. Yes, despite the common misconception, water is not an entirely renewable resource.

“All water supplies can be considered finite as they can all be depleted by overexploitation.” N.H. Gray

By 2050 human population is expected to reach 10 billion people. Following the current trends and UN estimates, 80% of the world population will be concentrated in urban areas, leading to increased stress on the water supply.

Oil cargo boat on the bottom of what once used to be the Aral Sea.

São Paulo, Bangalore, Beijing, Cairo, Jakarta, Moscow, Istanbul, Mexico City, London, Tokyo, Miami. These are some of the world’s largest cities that are most likely to run out of drinking water. Cape Town has already experienced the closeness of the ‘Day Zero’ scenario – the day the reservoirs dried up and a city of four million people would run out of water. To overcome this catastrophic situation the city was even considering a plan to haul icebergs from the Arctic. I very well remember May 2008, when I was living in Barcelona and the first boat carrying water supplies from France sailed into the city harbor amid the worst drought in the last 70 years.    

Water is life. And although it may appear that it is endless and everywhere only 2.5 % of all the water on Earth is freshwater. On top of that one third is in the form of ice tied up as ice in the poles or glaciers.

Access to water and sanitation is recognized by the United Nations as human rights, reflecting the fundamental nature of these basics in every person’s life. Yet, today over one billion people lack access to safe drinking water. Additionally, 2.3 billion are living in areas of severe water scarcity and managing on just 5 litter a day for all their needs. If you think that per person a minimum threshold water use, established by the UN, is 50L per day this shows how precarious their living conditions are.

On top of that; “There are 2.6 billion people with inadequate sanitation, so seen in conjunction with inadequate drinking water access then as many as 50 % of people in developing countries are suffering from health effects directly associated with these problems. Those living in areas of water scarcity are set to increase to 3.5 billion by 2025 and 4.5 billion by 2050 due to global warming changing weather patterns.” N.H. Gray

Therefore, unless we substantially reduce our water footprint, peak water will become inevitable.

In developed countries, a household of two adults and two children consumes 10 times above the threshold (approximately 510 L per day). But, households are only responsible for one part of the consumption. It is estimated that 70 L per employee is used in offices each day, some 300–500 L per patient is used in hospitals per day, and 400–500 L per guest in hotels. (Gray)

So, what can we do to reduce consumption and avoid peak water?

1. Mindful consumption

When it comes to taking responsibility and changing negative water consumption trends through individual behavior it helps to think of how much water is used in the habits and products that we use every day. We can start by remembering that less than 5 % of average daily household water use goes to drinking or food preparation and that the largest percentage used goes in for flushing the toilet. So, reducing shower time to 5 minutes, washing only fool loads of clothes, and flushing three times less, all combined lead to nearly 10% of water use reduction, as advised in the Drawdown. At the same time, when buying groceries and particularly saving food, it helps to keep in mind that agriculture accounts for approximately 70% of freshwater consumption. And also, that it takes 2,700 liters to produce the cotton needed to make a single t-shirt. 900 litter for the smartphone and up to 4000 to produce a single car.

2. Supporting and promoting low water footprint policies

To avoid water peak we need policies that, from local to the global level, govern and manage water resources by setting an upper limit on water availability so that new demands must be satisfied without increasing supplies (Gray). We can support and promote policies based on a more holistic approach to managing water supplies. Water demand management (WDM) is such an approach based on the practice of moving away from expensive and unrestrained infrastructural development associated with increasing water demand and setting an upper limit on water availability so that new demands must be satisfied without increasing supplies. This demand-side management is set to achieve its objectives through a range of integrated tools to manage water use including (Gray):

  • Conservation measures
  • Education
  • Metering
  • Building regulations that include water use minimization
  • Increased use of water-efficient appliances and fixtures

While approaching the year 2025, when it is estimated that 1.8 billion people will be living with absolute water scarcity and additionally four billion of the world’s population is expected to experience water stress, it helps to keep in mind some of these practices. They are aimed to reduce demand by a range of behavioral and structural conservation measures and set our water footprint to a sustainable level. Adopting these, and other sustainable measures, is our best chance of preventing peak water. They are our best chance to preserve life.

(For the info on the quoted literature, please contact me through the contact formulary)


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