We are running out of fresh water and climate change is making it worse. According to the UN, “By 2025, an estimated 1.8 billion people will live in areas plagued by water scarcity, with two-thirds of the world’s population living in water-stressed regions.” In this article we will go over some of the stressors on our global water supply and what innovations researchers are hoping will help.
Hurricanes and Wildfire
According to U.S. Intelligence Community Assessment of Global Water Security by 2030, it’s expected that the global middle class will explode to 4.9 billion, causing a major increase of freshwater consumption.
That same assessment found that by 2030 “humanity’s ‘annual global water requirements will exceed ‘current sustainable water supplies’ by 40%.”
There are two natural disasters being driven by climate change – hurricanes and wildfires – and these disasters are making water scarcity worse.
Places like California and Australia, driven by longer periods of dry and hot, are experiencing fires unlike any before. 2020 was record breaking for California with 4,257,863 acres burned.
In California, wildfires were often followed by heavy rainfall that caused flooding and rainfall. In 2018, debris and dissolved toxicants from burned buildings were flushed into nearby water supply.
Residents complained of their drinking water smelling like smoke. Some water utilities had to temporarily change water sources.
“Water exported from severely burned watersheds can have greatly altered chemistry and may contain elevated levels of undesirable materials that are difficult to remove.”
As hurricane flood water rushes through an area, it picks up all sorts of contaminants. This can flood water supply sources with contaminated water.
Some areas with tailings ponds or other contamination storage can be especially at risk. Many of those ponds were not designed for the flooding that record breaking hurricanes can bring.
Innovations to Save Drinking Water Supply
Some countries are turning to desalination to meet their drinking water needs. China, who only has 7% of the world’s freshwater, wants to heavily invest in desalination between 2021-2025 and raise their capacity to produce clean drinking water up to to 2.9 million tons per day.
Increased need for clean water has started a wave of innovative companies to meet desalination needs – along with other water scarcity solutions.
One of these companies is Oneka. Oneka has developed desalination buoys that are powered by the waves in the ocean. No land space is used, and no electricity is needed.
Marketing themselves as perfect for resorts, private islands, and coastal communities, Oneka says their buoys can produce 10 m3 / day per buoy of clean water. The desalination doesn’t significantly increase the ocean’s salinity, as the released brine’s salinity is only around 30% higher than the ocean’s salinity.
Another company hoping to ease water scarcity woes is Veracet. Veracet helps communities identify the source of bacterial contamination in water using DNA fingerprinting technology and analytics.
When compared to traditional methods, Veracet can detect 90% more microbes. The test identifies if the source of the bacteria is from human, cow, or bird fecal matter – allowing utility management to pinpoint and remove the source.