Wednesday, January 30, 2013

eco 101: worldwide water

Water, or the lack thereof.

Water scarcity is one of the defining issues of the 21st century. As temperatures rise and droughts become more frequent, the threat of dwindling water resources worries not just environmentalists and governments but companies and their investors, too. Nearly every industrial sector, from food and beverages to mining to pharmaceuticals, depends on water for its operations. Figuring out which places are likely to be hit hardest can help a company either steer clear of a certain region or plan ahead to minimize damage to its business or supply chain.

In its Global Risks 2013 report, the World Economic Forum identified water supply crises as one of the highest impact and most likely risks facing the planet. In response to this issue, the World Resources Institute unveiled the centerpiece of a three-year development effort: the Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas, which maps the state of freshwater globally.

The Atlas uses a robust, peer reviewed methodology and the best-available data to create high-resolution, customizable global maps of water risk. Aqueduct's global water risk mapping tool helps companies, investors, governments, and other users understand where and how water risks and opportunities are emerging worldwide, and allows interested parties to visualize and compare water conditions, on global and local scales.

The full version of the atlas, harnesses the latest geo-tagged scientific data to create 12 different indicators of water quality, including drought, flood and seasonal variability. The indicators visually overlay one another to create a composite view of aggregate water stress. The ecosystems layer, for example, highlights fragile habitats where freshwater fishes, amphibians and birds may live, while the groundwater supply layer — the first of its kind to be included in such an analysis — indicates places where aquifers might be drying up.
“As important as water is, we give it very little attention,” said Betsy Otto, the project’s director. “We haven’t invested as we should in pricing, tracking and locating water in ways that make most sense for human economies.”
The institute acknowledges that the maps are far from perfect,  information is far from complete on global groundwater conditions and very few real-time monitoring efforts are in place for freshwater. Despite this fact, the organization feels that it is important that the information at hand is readily available to individuals, and plans to gradually incorporate new findings, including remote sensing data and monitoring results from NASA satellites.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I have heard a lot about this issue recently. It brings to mind the importance of net zero buildings for this coming century. The construction industry must do it's part to make sure developers and owners are investing in practical systems to manage the use of water. Things such as grey water reclamation and low flow fixtures are only the beginning however. Part of the picture that I have heard mentioned involves how we design and manage our use of land and zoning as a means of resource management. That requires a political impetus, and the coordination of finances into the coming social movements that will shape our planet in the future.