Climate Change and water: an overview

Climate Change and water: an overview

Climate Change and water: an overview


Water- the single most important element that allowed for life to spring on our planet. It is so important that in just 3 days a human can die if they do not drink it, compared to surviving for weeks/months without food. Life and water go hand in hand and rarely do you get a lot of animals in an area without it.

71% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, that includes the oceans, rivers, lakes, small streams etc. However, only 3% of these 71% is fresh water.

Why is fresh water important?

Fresh water has been one of the key components for ancient civilizations and modern-day life. Imagine the Ancient Greeks and Romans without their baths, aqueducts, viaducts that allowed for water to be transported from far and wide and deliver it to your doorstep. Usage of water has evolved as we have evolved from irrigation to hygiene, to its’ usage as decoration via fountains. Throughout history water was seen as a public good-free to use and manage as the state pleases. However, what has worked in the past will not work in the future as water resources are coming under increasing strains.

Water under threat

The life cycle of water is complicated but also interesting. As you can see there is a very intricate relationship between how water evaporates and then how it gets deposited back to the earth- either via rain, snow, hale, underwater etc.

However, places that had plentiful of rain and water are now running dry or are on the brink of being desolate due to water disappearing.

For example, in South Africa the city of Cape Town, a city of 4 million residents, has been under severe threat for several years of running out of water. This has been brought about by unusually long spells of drought, coupled with using more water that was being replaced put the city to the brink of running out of water. To avert the crisis the local government limited water usage significantly to 50 liters per person per day as well as sharing a myriad of water saving tips. In addition, the city started removing non-indigenous trees such as pine trees, which require a great deal more water than native species, thereby limiting the potential for water usage in an extreme situation. Luckily, after an extensive program aimed at water conservation the crisis has been averted so far.

Another interesting example is Las Vegas, USA- a city built in the middle of the dessert.  In recent years authorities have been forced to assist citizens in removing thirsty grass from the front yards of houses. Grass requires huge amounts of water to survive in this harsh climate. That is why the Nevada Legislature has required nonfunctional grass to be replaced or removed by 2026, which would reduce consumption by 9.6 billion gallons (approximately 43 billion liters) per year.  Also given the dessert climate the plan is to introduce more resilient plants that do not require huge levels of irrigation and can withstand the harsher climate. The city has gone so far as to even handing out fines or banning irrigation during the day, installing more efficient water systems.

Not only that but communities across the globe are feeling the effects of less water in certain areas, especially in areas that never had such problems.

California is another interesting example, where the state experienced several dry years from 2012 onwards that put the focus on how water is utilized and waste at the forefront of public policy. Due to the way the water system was created it is dependent on water from other places (around 50%) and the rest is coming from ground water. Some areas of California are more severely impacted by others but overall, there is an extreme scenario developing over the last few years with dire consequences.


There are many causes for this situation:

  • Over usage of available water resources
  • Changing climate patterns due to global warming
  • Pollution of water resources, which means non-polluted ones come under increased strain
  • Limited usage of modern water management methods to limit the damage
  • Wastage of water due to poor pipes and insulation

The main reason is climate change as it is responsible for ever changing climate patterns, which means that extreme water patterns that used to be rare in the past are now becoming more common- from intense rains, where areas get flooded to extreme droughts, where areas that used to provide agricultural produce cannot do so anymore.

Possible solutions

Now climate change is on focus in many countries, but it will take some time for the combined efforts of every country in the globe to take effect. Meanwhile, there are several ways to combat water wastage and improve how our current water resources are managed:

  • Strict laws that limit the usage of water for specific purposes and the amount that should be used; This would affect residential areas, where sometimes water is overused for trivial purposes.
  • Installing water efficient showers, toilets, and sinks
  • Improving existing underground pipe system to decrease spillage and possible failures of the system
  • Reduce water usage to essential areas for society; limit usage for decorative purposes such as fountains, lawns, golf courses, etc.
  • Improving current irrigation systems that would lead to less usage for growing different harvests
  •  Maintain better control of strategic ground water reserves


Fresh water is a very precious resource that usually tends to be overlooked in the grand scheme of things. This has finally caught with society and decades of mismanagement have finally come to bear. Our rivers, lakes, aquifers, streams, and many other freshwater resources are vital for our whole eco-system and way of life. Better oversight, improved technology, and public awareness are making a change, but more is needed to limit potential long-term consequences, or we risk having previously fresh, green, abundant with harvest areas becoming destitute and desert areas.

References(not an exhaustive list):

Main Photo - Photo by Claudio Carrozzo on Unsplash

Bringing water to Africa’s poor | Africa Renewal

Addressing Africa’s extreme water insecurity

Water | WHO | Regional Office for Africa

Water Scarcity in Africa | The Water Project

Water Scarcity | Threats | WWF

Clean Water Crisis Facts and Information

Which Country Has the Most Fresh Water? - WorldAtlas


Renewable internal freshwater resources per capita (cubic meters) | Data

- EA-2008_International-Comparisons-of-Domestic-per-Capita-Consumption.pdf

CDC Global Health - Infographics - Water Use Around the World


What Is Water Conservation? | Constellation | Constellation

Benefits of Water Conservation

A tour of water management in Europe

Climate impacts on water resources — European Environment Agency

How Climate Change Impacts Our Water

How Much Water is There on Earth? | U.S. Geological Survey

Water Facts - Worldwide Water Supply | ARWEC| CCAO | Area Offices | California-Great Basin | Bureau of Reclamation

A Brief History of Water and Health from Ancient Civilizations to Modern Times | IWA Publishing

A History of How Running Water Advanced Modern Civilization

The water cycle - Met Office

California drought: Where's the rain? 27 to 36 consecutive dry days recorded across Bay Area - ABC7 San Francisco

The Most Drought Prone Countries in the World - WorldAtlas


Millions of people seriously affected by drought in Near East and South Asia

Day Zero: Where next?

Cape Town's Day Zero: 'We are axing trees to save water' - BBC News

SNWA conservation facts and achievements

Staying the course on water conservation remains vital to Las Vegas' future - Las Vegas Sun Newspaper

‘We live in a desert. We have to act like it’: Las Vegas faces reality of drought | Climate crisis | The Guardian

With new law, Las Vegas water agency bets on ‘aggressive municipal water conservation measure' to remove decorative turf, conserve Colorado River supply - The Nevada Independent

As drought conditions worsen, California braces for ‘worst-case scenario’ | Successful Farming

California drought: Record dry spell continues during wettest months of the year - ABC7 San Francisco

California |

Droughts in California - Wikipedia

What A Dry January Means for California’s Drought - The New York Times

Drought in Southeast Asia

Ready for the Dry Years: Building Resilience to Drought in Southeast Asia | ESCAP

India’s Ominous Future: Too Little Water, or Far Too Much - The New York Times

India’s latest crisis: 600 million people struggle with drought | The Interpreter

Drought Status Update for the Midwest |

Microsoft Word - PRINCE final from KT.doc - scho0805bjjf-e-e.pdf

Water Efficiency Showerheads

Eco Shower Heads Buying Guide - Which?

South Africa is Setting the Standard for Water Wise Tourism

California Water Efficiency Partnership » California Water Efficiency Partnership

Saving Water in California - ws-ourwater-california-state-fact-sheet.pdf

Water Use in California - Public Policy Institute of California

Front gardens and sports turfs are OK, but decorative medians and office landscaping are out | Daily Mail Online

Water-worried Vegas wants useless grass a thing of the past | AP News

Las Vegas’s new strategy for tackling drought – banning ‘useless grass’ | Las Vegas | The Guardian

Restricting outdoor water use

Cape Town almost ran out of water. Here's how it averted the crisis | World Economic Forum


How Cape Town was saved from running out of water | Water | The Guardian

California water districts to get 0% of requested supplies in unprecedented decision | California drought | The Guardian

California water shortages: Why some places are running out - CalMatters


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