Water Scarcity and the Need for Conservation
Water is one of the essential components of life. It provides humans, wildlife, and plants the ability to prosper. It is vital for many reasons:
- Plants use water to make food through the process of photosynthesis.
- It holds the aquatic life we consume (fish and seaweed).
- All life requires it to maintain the many chemical processes that sustain us.
It is so essential that a human can only 2-3 days without fresh water. The earth’s ability to survive is heavily dependent on water availability. Without it, there can be no plants, there can be no wildlife, and there can be no human life. As we collectivly face water scarcity it is literally a matter of life or death. Most people see this beautiful blue planet and wonder, how can we have a water shortage?
The Blue Planet
Water is a large portion of the earth’s surface (71%). However, a majority is not readily available for drinking or commercial purposes.
Of the 71% of Earth’s Water:
- 96% is in oceans (not readily usable for agriculture or drinking)
- 3% is freshwater
- 2.5% of freshwater is unavailable (trapped in glaciers, ice caps)
- ~ 0.5% of freshwater is available
- 0.62% of available freshwater is in groundwater
- 0.009% of available freshwater is in lakes
- 0.0001 % of available freshwater is in rivers
When put into perspective, the available water appropriate for agriculture and drinking (potable) is only a tiny fraction of the earth’s total water. In the face of climate change and a growing population, water availability has become one of the most significant issues facing many communities worldwide. Such impacts of climate change include increased drought (decreased availability) and increased flooding (reduced clean water availability due to contamination).
Colorado River Compact
Here in the U.S., water availability has been an issue in Western states such as California, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico, all of which share the Colorado River as one of their primary water sources. As a result, some of these areas have experienced drought and increased costs. California, for instance, suffered a drought lasting from December 27, 2011- March 5, 2019, a total of eight years. In the eight years, “the most intense period of drought occurred the week of July 29, 2014, where D4 [the most severe type of drought] affected 58.41% of California land” (Drought in California, 2019).
The struggle with access to the Colorado River’s water has not only caused economic and social issues within these states. It has significantly impacted a more vulnerable community: Native Americans. Although the original Colorado River Compact recognized the Native American’s water rights, nothing was “on the books” until a 1963 Supreme Court decision. This decision quantified the federal reserved rights of the five Native American reservations along the lower Colorado River. The Native American Reservations included in the 1963 Supreme Court (Arizona v. California) were the Chemehuevi, Cocopah, Colorado River, Fort Mohave, and Quechan (Fort Yuma). However, this Supreme Court decision did not completely remedy the many issues on water availability that are still apparent in Native American communities/reservations. There was no remedy because this is STILL going through the courts.
Currently, the Colorado River is at all-time lows, with record droughts affecting the states that rely on the river for fresh water. This has been in the news recently as policymakers attempt to compromise with all the entities involved. KJZZ recently did a series exploring the challenges facing the Colorado River States called, Every Last Drop. This series is robust and explores all aspects of the water issue.
Water as a Right
Seeing the impact of climate change on water availability in real-time poses the need and urgency to tackle conservation issues. Conservation is crucial to ensuring water availability for communities in need worldwide (such as the many Native American communities/reservation in the U.S. mentioned above). In 2019, the United Nations (UN) launched “Leaving no one behind” as a part of their 2019 World Water Development Report. This initiative obliges countries to work towards universal access to everyone without discrimination. It also prioritizes those most sensitive to lack of availability and vulnerable to water scarcity. As mentioned by the UN in previous years, access and sanitation are human rights. The UN identifies different components of access and sanitation as a human right:
- Availability of water and sanitation
- Physical accessibility of water and sanitation
- Quality and safety
- Acceptability (by societal norms or culture of different areas)
Using the framework already outlined by the UN, these components become part of conversations about conservation. These conservations can help improve the well-being of vulnerable communities here in the U.S. This can be a step forward in tackling the global issue of water scarcity and availability.
March 22-24, 2023, the UN 2023 Water Conference will be held in New York. National governments and stakeholders from all levels of society will come together to commit to action.
This Conference will launch the Water Action Agenda, including commitments from people worldwide.
World Water Day – Focusing Attention on Water Scarcity
World Water Day is an annual United Nations observance day held on March 22 that highlights the importance of fresh water. The day is used to advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. This is a great opportunity to audit your water use. Our article Water & Us, offers family-friendly ways to do your part.
Carla Salas wrote this article in 2020. She was working with ACE Recycling in conjunction with her schooling at Grand Canyon University. She is majoring in Environmental Science with a focus on Chemistry and a minor in Pre-Law. Her future goals include getting a Master’s/P.h.D in Environmental Science along with going to law school to eventually become an environmental lawyer to fight and advocate for environmental justice for vulnerable communities. As a member of the Latinx and Hispanic culture and as a bilingual Chicana/Mexican-American community member, she is passionate about providing equal access to environmental education and justice through her bilingual skills. The proverb below summarizes her passion for environmental justice and her belief that all communities can access the resources needed for a healthy life. “La agua y la comida es sagrada y nunca se desprecia” “Water and food is sacred and is never despised”
Find Carla on Instagram at environmental.lawtina or on Tik Tok @carla.salas37 or Enviro.lawtina