Climate change and water scarcity

Climate Change: Dealing with Water Scarcity

According a United Nations report, 3.6 billion people worldwide face water scarcity for at least one month each year. Even affluent communities in the United States restrict water usage during the peak summer season. Rainwater collection systems in homes and community wide infrastructure upgrades such as bioswales can help conserve water, reduce pressure on stormwater drainage systems and mitigate the impact of climate change.

Learning from disasters

Ancient Harrapan city of Dholavira was abandoned when a river changed its course away from its shores.  Dholavira could not survive without water.  There are countless examples in history that link survival with access to water.  In cities like Flint, Michigan and many cities along polluted rivers, the crisis appears to have been caused by our own negligent behavior.  Recent episodes of severe droughts brought on by climate change are only adding to our misery.  What can we do to assure that future generations will have adequate supply of clean water for their survival?

Water scarcity after Hurricane Maria

It is heartbreaking to watch people struggling to get clean drinking water after a major hurricane or weather event. I personally witnessed drinking water crisis in Puerto Rico after hurricane Maria. In the days and weeks after the hurricane, the delivery of bottled water could not reach countless communities due to downed trees and powerlines blocking the streets. And that was after they received many inches of rainwater! Unfortunately, much of that water washed away to the sea after causing flash floods and destruction. Things would have been much different if people had invested in rainwater collection systems in homes and communities to mitigate the impact of climate change.

Is rainwater safe to drink?

According to US CDC – Center for Disease Control, it is important to make sure that the water quality is appropriate for intended use.  Rainwater can be used for watering plants, cleaning, or bathing.  Rainwater may not be suitable for drinking because it may contain different types of contaminants as it washes away from roof.  Homeowners are responsible for ensuring that the water is tested regularly for safety and that the system is maintained per local regulations.  Some states consider rainwater the property of the state, so you should check with your local government before installing a rainwater collection system.

A cactus plant allows water to drip to the ground with non-stick surfaces. Photo by Barakat1992CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Learning from nature

Nature has devised ingenious ways to conserve water. For example, a cactus plant in a hot arid region is designed to conserve water by eliminating large leaves which could otherwise lose water through evaporation. By allowing photosynthesis to occur in trunks as opposed to the leaves, and by allowing water to drip to the ground with non-stick surfaces, a cactus plants shows how nature conserves water. The root system of a cactus plant is spread horizontally just below the ground surface to facilitate easy absorption and storage, which displays nature’s understanding of water conservation in hot arid regions.

Rain barrel at home. Photo by Benoit RochonCC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Rainwater collection systems in homes

Rainwater barrels are a great way to capture rainwater for later use.  They can be purchased and installed with relative ease.  It is also important to allow the rainwater to seep into the ground to improve vegetation and maintain adequate ground water level.  This can be done by either reducing the paved area or by using permeable pavers which allow the water to seep into the ground.

A bioswale to conserve water. Photo by Newtown grafittiCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Rainwater collection systems at community level

At a community level, it is important reduce run-off of rainwater water into the storm water drainage systems.  This reduces burden on local infrastructure and promotes water conservation in urban areas to support vegetation.  New York City has built thousands of green infrastructure projects in recent years such as bioswales, rain gardens, infiltration basins and underground detention systems. Everyone can learn from New York City’s experience in dealing with the impact of climate change.  You can see the locations of these projects in an interactive map and find typical engineering details online.  

Key takeaways

1  Spread the message to your friends and family to install rainwater collection systems where possible.
2  Start or support new businesses for design, installation and maintenance of rainwater collection systems. 
3  Ask elected leaders to promote the use of rainwater collection systems through regulations.
4  Click rainwater collection system resources for more information and Pinterest ideas.

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