As outlined on the problems page, agriculture, dams, deforestation, wetland reduction, and abandoned mines are some of today's greatest challenges in watershed protection.
Knowledge Transfer: According to the The Urban Water Blueprint by the Nature Conservancy, it was noted that the worlds largest 100 cities get their water from watersheds that are comprised of 50% or more agriculture land. These cities are home to 823 million people, and the watersheds consist of 12% of the worlds land area. However, while agriculture remains a large source of water pollution, many farmers are unware that that agriculture is a major contributor to water pollution (2010 UK national Audit Office survey, found 85% farmers were unaware).
Money: Investment in water infrastructure has always struggled, and the current investment gaps in required water infrastructure is alarming. The OECD found that globally, $36.18 billion USD would be required for key water infrastructure by 2030. In the U.S. alone, lack of funding for water infrastructure is expected to produce a gap of $84 billion by 2020. Even more challenging are conservation investments, which are estimated that $300 billion is needed every year to meet the challenges. However, what is missing is the acceptance that investing in nature can have economic benefits. While there are some great success stories (read about New York City, on the Solutions page) of how investing in the environment actually cost less than building water treatment facilities (let alone the energy utilized to operate).
Action: Throughout the world, water is generally subsidized, which has helped build strong economies and improved infrastructure. However, this has led to misunderstanding in the value of water, as few people know the real cost. What is known, is that financial incentives can change consumer habits. For example, the introduction to paying for plastic sacks at stores has shown up to a 90% reduction in usage. If people knew the value of water, and had financial incentives to use less, water conservation could take a giant leap forward. There are some local community awareness programs and national driven incentives that have had mild success, such as WaterSense water efficiency rebates, and Fix a Leak Week that highlights consumer education. The challenge is to implement get faster actions, instead of waiting for people to pay attention.
Most infrastructure that stands was designed without environmental considerations, but rather to flush water as quickly and efficiently as possible to nearby rivers and streams. New research and methods offer opportunities to incorporate permeable surfaces, rain gardens, and other filtration methods to reduce non-point pollution as well as recharge natural ground water. The challenges lie in the adoption rate of these technologies and replacing old or polluting systems.
Cities around the world, including the 100 largest cities, have a real opportunity to utilize watershed protection to at least reduce the pollution into their water sources. As populations grow, and increase the demands of freshwater, energy, and food, we have to take proactive steps now for a better future.
The world by 2050: It is estimated that the world’s population will grow from 7 to 9 billion by the year 2050. If water consumption remains at current rates, this new population will require 50% more water. This growing population will also require more food and energy. With agriculture currently consuming 69% of the global water, the added stress on the environment and resources will be tremendous. Given that people, energy, and agriculture are some of the largest contributors to water pollution, the future faces many challenges to ensure that everyone has access to healthy water, food, and energy. Next, layer in the fact that climate change is compounding the above situation, and the challenges are immense. These are the reasons that we need innovation and action to solve the problems of today and prepare for our future.