Local mismanagement, dry conditions causing a global freshwater crisis

Nevada drought

A mud-covered boat is seen in an area that was once underwater in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada. 

For drivers in Southern California, drivers will be reminded over and over again they are living through a drought. On radio, there are ads urging people not to wash their cars or water their lawns, along with billboards telling people to be on the lookout for water wasters. Meanwhile, electronic road signs used for Amber Alerts and accident warnings have defaulted to reminders the state is in severe drought warnings.

An electronic sign near the 280 freeway warns of serious drought conditions and encourages people to use less water in San Francisco, California. The message is part of a statewide educational campaign that the California Department of Transportation. Now in its third straight year of unprecedented drought, California is experiencing its driest year on record dating back 119 years, prompting California Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a statewide drought emergency last month.

How bad is it in California? Well, agricultural groups estimate some $5 billion will be lost this year because of the dry conditions.

But dry conditions and water shortages are happening on every continent except Antarctica, and that’s presenting a serious global challenge for small and big companies, according to Financial Times Environmental Correspondent Pilita Clark. She recently wrote a series called a World Without Water, and she says mismanagement and dry conditions are causing a significant crisis around the globe.

“In other words, water is really poorly distributed,” Clark says. “And then, it’s long been taken for granted … it’s been polluted. So what we’re seeing in country after country is growing competition between farmers and industry. And that growing competition between two groups is becoming more and more intense.”

Of course, a crisis can create opportunity. In Las Vegas, a public-private partnership is looking to take their expertise in handling drought. The Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance is looking to sell that knowledge to other governments and groups around the world.

“What this is a unique partnership, taking all of the research and all of the technology, and turn it into a commercialization opportunity,” says LVGEA CEO and President Tom Scancke. “This is a whole new marketplace that hasn't been looked at or inspected properly.”

About the author

Lizzie O'Leary is the new host of Marketplace Weekend.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...