Without technical equipment to monitor water distribution and usage, many systems have frequent undetected leaks (both of small and large quantities) and are vulnerable to abuse and theft. This not only leads to water waste, but it raises the costs of water, and uses an unnecessary amount of energy.
Dams: While dams provide green energy and water storage that is ultimately utilized for 12-16% of irrigation in the world, their construction prevents the passage of water and sediment, often fish, and can decrease water quality. The current challenge is to consider alternative options for energy, water availability, and of course using water efficiency. It’s all too likely that we will still need water storage even in the best efficiency and watershed protection implementations, but there are other alternatives to segmenting entire river systems. Alternatives include gravity fed ponds with solar power, wind, and hydro as well as sediment bypass in dams, and major considerations where dams are built for both immediate, long-term, and climate change scenarios. These are discussed in the solutions section.
Energy Sources: The world's energy sources and industries use an incredible amount of water. Global energy is produced from 87% fossil fuels (oil 33%, coal 30%, natural gas 24%) and the remaining is comprised of hydropower at 6%, nuclear at 5%, and other renewables at 2% (BP Statistical Review 2014). When it comes to water usage, solar thermal with wet cooling, coal, nuclear, use the most water to produce one megawatt-hour of electricity (i.e. enough to power 1,000 homes for an hour). While the world is already shifting toward green energy, we must not only the most energy efficient, but water efficient technologies, as solar thermal with wet cooling shows, not all renewable sources are water friendly.
Public Perception: People need to be educated on recycled water. Often, people hear toilet-to-tap, which is a gross concept to consider. However, if people understand the full process and the water quality metrics, they are far more likely to accept these new innovations. California is a good example, where after public education improved participation, one in five are now receives full or partial recycled water.
Ocean: Reducing the amount of pollution that is released in to the oceans and estuaries is essential for water conservation and for general world conservation. Through various infrastructure implementations, these goals can be achieved. While much of the world is turning a new importance on ocean conservation, the best thing we can do is contain the pollution before it enters our oceans by containing it at the source - and even better, preventing it from ever occurring. However, there is much pollution that is already in our water, our soil, and will be slowly transported to our waterways through the groundwater. That’s why it is important and a huge challenge today to reduce as much pollution as possible, that way in the future as our current pollution is migrated toward the waterways, at least it isn’t compounded.
There are hundreds of thousands of dams in existence, several in construction and planning, and more that remain as goals. In the Amazon River basin, there are 414 such dams, and hydropower accounts for 70% of Brazil’s electricity; however, Brazil’s dams are not achieving their full potential as their capacity remains low (many below 50%), yet dam construction continues. With global food development dependence on water supplies from dams estimated between 12-16%, careful future considerations must assess if dams are good or bad solutions for local economies. As our future relys on green energy and water conservation, we need to assess what energy sources have environmental impacts. While hydropower is considered a green-technology, it is very vulnerable to climate changes. With such a reliance on dam water for agriculture, agriculture is setting up for vulnerability as well. Several of the issues can be combated with forethought, investment, and action, but such additions are better to be included from the beginning as opposed to retrofitting.