Extreme Water Stress; Interventions to Avoid Running Out of Water.

Published: 26 August 2019

The ‘Day Zero campaign’ in Cape Town in the course of 2018, the recent warm Summer in Europe and the devastating droughts in India and South Siberia, show the human dependency on fresh water. Last week, experts, industries and other users of (ground)water resources met in Cape Town for a second workshop on water management in the region.

This month the World Resources Institute (WRI) published an update of the water risk atlas and concluded that a quarter of world’s population lives in the areas which are under extremely high risk of water stress meaning they are using almost all the water they have. The new maps also show the enormous pressure on the groundwater resources in many countries.

The role of groundwater

In this updated version of the water risk atlas, Deltares has developed the validated set of groundwater indicators and calculated the groundwater related risks based on the applied Global Groundwater MODFLOW model, developed by Utrecht University. Other partners in this project are the Delft University of Technology, Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM), PBL Netherlands Environmental Agency, and RepRisk.

Groundwater is traditionally used in dry seasons or drought periods as an alternative resource. ‘But due to the increased water stress, it is becoming the main resource throughout the year for many regions,’ clarifies Marta Faneca Sanchez of Deltares. ‘The groundwater table is declining rapidly in some important aquifers in several countries, like the United States, India, China, Egypt and several countries in the Arabian Peninsula,’ Faneca Sanchez continues, ‘also, below mega cities like Dhaka or Mexico City.’

WRI Aqueduct tool

“Water stress is the biggest crisis no one is talking about. Its consequences are in plain sight in the form of food insecurity, conflict and migration, and financial instability.” said Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the World Resources Institute.

Many authorities, companies and NGOs use the global water risk atlas to assess the water availability and evaluate the exposure to water risk regarding water management in a catchment, plot priority locations and detect vulnerability of nature and humanity. The atlas assists to give insights to future decisions and investments.

What’s next?

Regional and local data should be consulted so that together with relevant stakeholders, interventions can be determined, implemented and monitored. This is where Deltares also applies validated data and science in order to create impact for generations to come. For instance, the GIRAgua Recharge pilot project in Chile which captures river water into natural aquifers before it flushes into the ocean. And the WaterLOUPE project in close cooperation with Kimberly-Clark in South Africa to assess with river basin communities which solution strategies must be implemented, so no one feels left behind concerning fresh water supply.

Cape Town 2018, citizens had to queue for 50 litres of water per person per day

Stakeholders determine the interventions

“Global models and global tools show information on a national level. In contrast, the WaterLOUPE tool intends to provide insight into the differences in levels of risk between sectors and between municipalities. Not everyone is affected in the same way.” Jason Mingo explained representing the Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, during the second workshop in Cape Town. “Engaging with different stakeholders is essential to find sustainable solutions. It allows you to understand their perceptions of risk, how they are affected and what the consequences of different measures may be.”

“We have been through the water crisis. Now that we are in calmer times we have to plan ahead,’ adds Jay Jackson, mill manager Kimberly-Clark in Cape Town. “The future risks we are facing require integrated approaches where all sectors and stakeholders play an important role. It’s great to see how this process is bringing together industrial, agriculture, financial, scientific and governmental stakeholders and invites everyone to be part of sustainable solutions.”

WaterLOUPE workshop, stakeholders analyse the water resources and discuss the interventions (Deltares, Kimberly-Clark)

The value of groundwater

According to Faneca Sanchez, the most important aspect is that around the globe, more people realize that water is a significant resource for nature and humanity; including the special role of groundwater. So, let’s use it smart and in a sustainable manner.

Waste water treatment, Western Cape