• Deepa Rao

Emerging global climate-water risks, a system-based approach to water management is need of the hour

Updated: Jan 31

Various geographical regions have been hit by heatwaves and droughts in recent weeks. Infrastructure, social, and environmental systems are currently coping with climate extremes in the west of the United States, the south of Brazil, and the Middle East, to name a few regions. The scientific community believes that this year's droughts in Brazil are the worst in a century, while the recent droughts in the United States are the worst in 1,200 years.

Droughts are causing water systems to struggle as a result of the consequences. Lake Mead, the reservoir constructed by the Hoover Dam, the country's largest reservoir, has been declared under historic deficit in the United States. This has resulted in unprecedented water shortages across the majority of the Southwest United States, hurting important economic sectors. The five interconnected reservoirs that make up the Cantareira system in Brazil, which distributes water to places like Sao Paolo, are currently functioning at 40% capacity. In countries like Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, reservoirs are reporting severely low water levels.

Failing water systems have consequences for key industries such as food and electricity. The initial effects may extend beyond the local level, reaching national and transnational levels. Failure of hydropower production in Brazil would result in a 15% increase in electricity rates. In addition, as a result of less available water for irrigation, food costs have risen, particularly for sugar and cocoa.

Failing crops in Iraq are hurting farmer incomes and increasing reliance on food and water imports. Households and companies in Iraq and Lebanon are suffering from critical power shortages and unreliable regional interconnections because they cannot afford private generators.

A more interconnected and changing world, where local water hazards have far-reaching global consequences, necessitates a novel outlook on the water sector. This new strategy must incorporate the following elements:

Expand your water system's horizons

Water and related systems are frequently evaluated via local lenses, with their scope limited to the immediate utility (or hazard) they provide. The complex structure of modern society and economies necessitates a broadening of this vision. The extent to which droughts in Brazil affect food security and inflation in food-importing countries necessitate re-imagining the true geographic boundaries of what is commonly referred to as a water system.

Consider elements other than hydro climatological and infrastructural

Expanding the water sector's limits also necessitates careful consideration of the links that water creates in the sociological, economic, and institutional sectors. The impact of water and climate shocks on energy transformation efforts, as well as energy security goals, necessitates a rethinking of what constitutes a resilient energy-water system.

Water security and climate resilience frameworks must be reconciled with domains such as international trade and relations, food and energy, country-level socioeconomic goals, and comprehensive analysis of systematic interdependencies.

Recognize that the water and related sectors have ever-changing and uncertain characteristics

Droughts aren't the only dangers associated with climate change and water. In Belgium, China, Germany, and other nations, the resilience of socioeconomic institutions have been put to the test in recent months by enormous floods. During the unexpected cold wave in Texas this February, the vital links between climate energy and water supply were also put to the test.

Yet, especially in a changing climate, the mid-and long-term characteristics of water risks are difficult to forecast. This underlines the importance of planning water and interdependent systems while taking into account the variety of risks and causes of change (including those unrelated to climate change) and offering solutions that are resilient in the face of possible futures.

The effects of rising temperatures on water security are numerous. For starters, it means that evaporation from all water bodies will be higher. It indicates that we must not only work on storing water in millions of structures, but also on lowering evaporation losses.

For far too long, India has overlooked the management of groundwater systems in favor of irrigation bureaucracies based on planned canals and other surface water systems. However, in this age of climate change and water scarcity, this will need to alter. We also need to figure out how to reduce losses from tanks, ponds, and canals. It's not that evaporation losses haven't occurred in the past; nevertheless, as temperatures rise, the rate of evaporation will increase. As a result, we must plan ahead and do more.

Increased heat will cause soil moisture to evaporate, making the ground dusty and increasing the requirement for irrigation. It will exacerbate land degradation and dust bowl formation in countries like India, where the majority of food is still cultivated in rainfed regions watered by rain. This means that water management must be combined with plantation planning in order to improve soils' ability to hold water, even during periods of extreme and extended heat.

Heat will, of course; increase the use of water, from drinking and irrigation to fighting down forest fires. Devastating forest fires have already raged in many regions of the world, including India's forests. As the temperature rises, this will only get worse. As a result of the increased demand for water as a result of climate change, it is even more critical that we do not have wastewater.

This isn't all, though. Climate change is already manifesting itself in an increase in the number of intense rain events. This indicates that rain will likely fall in the form of a flood, intensifying the cycle of floods followed by droughts. India already has fewer rainy days every year, with an average of only 100 hours of rain per year. The number of rainy days will continue to decline, but the number of extreme rainy days will rise.

Water security is under threat as competing socioeconomic and environmental demands make it difficult to manage this precious resource effectively. Local solutions must include the ecology of individual watersheds as well as how communities use resources. More than just the most easily measurable components of water management, such as water quantity or quality, we must collaborate across traditional water management silos (water usage and governance, riparian landscape management, ecological conservation, and so on) to integrate these elements into our solutions.

Top-down approaches, according to Maithri Aquatech's specialists, are ideal for climate change mitigation but inappropriate and possibly detrimental for water. A planetary water boundary, for example, may have aided in bringing attention to the global water crisis a decade ago, but it significantly oversimplifies water security. Setting a limit on global human water use does not solve the water crisis' numerous complexities, nor does it make sense given the world's unequal distribution of water.

Water footprint assessments and water offsets also tend to oversimplify the intricacies of freshwater ecosystems, failing to account for the diversity of local impacts, livelihoods, and stakeholder requirements. These methodologies commonly evaluate the value of water as a physical resource to the numerous additional benefits given by freshwater ecosystems, as well as the costs of restoring these non-equivalent commodities.

The greater focus on bottom-up solutions that address local and regional water issues allows for more flexible management in response to new knowledge and changing circumstances. This will be especially crucial as governments and industry bodies must incorporate greater flexibility into their water management in order to deal with climate change's less predictable effects.

While highlighting the distinctions, our specialists hold a consistent belief in the decision-scaling method that we use in water management and climate adaptation. Climate and environment are examined in the context of stakeholder-defined demands in decision-scaling. Stakeholders such as planners, engineers, and conservationists will need to drive the process from the ground up.

Let's be clear about something: we needed to be obsessive with water and its management since water is the basis of health and wealth. However, we must now be more than obsessive; we must be resolute and intentional. This is the true make-or-break moment in our history.

Talk to our experts today and get a deeper understanding of global climate-water risks and why a strong system-based approach to water is a critical need of the hour.

Maithri Aquatech

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