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Boosting Water

Sandra Postel and Amy Vickers

State of the World 2004

Boosting Water Productivity


1. A New Mindset for Managing Water

2. Water-Rich, Water-Poor
3. Water, Crops, and Diets
4. Cities and Homes
5. Industrial Water Use and Material
Goods Consumption
6. Policy Priorities
Freshwater Ecosystems

• Rivers, lakes, wetlands, and

underground aquifers
• They store, move, and
cleanse water as it cycles
between sea, air, and land
• Healthy ecosystems need
- Minimum quality and quantity
of water
- Natural flow pattern
World Water Use


Towns and
Source: World Bank, World Development Indicators, 2001
Human Influences on
Freshwater Ecosystems

• Water tables are falling

from overpumping of
• Many streams and rivers
run dry for portions of the
• Large inland lakes are
• World’s freshwater
wetlands have diminished
in area by half
Current Water Use Patterns
Are Unsustainable

• Impacts accelerate with increases in population

and consumption
• Large-scale water development projects (i.e.,
dams, reservoirs, diversion projects) have
social and ecological costs:
- Ecosystems destroyed
- Fisheries decimated
- Aquatic species imperiled
- People displaced from
their homes
1. A New Mindset for
Managing Water
• Freshwater is a life support system for
• Must allocate sufficient water throughout the
year to protect valuable ecosystem functions
• Can use remaining water to satisfy human
demands efficiently, equitably, and productively
Water Productivity of
Selected Countries
Water Productivity: Value of economic goods and
services per cubic meter of water extracted from the
natural environment

Egypt 2.8

India 3.6
China 8.5

Russian Federation 12.3

United States 18.0
Brazil 20.3
Australia 21.3
Germany 40.2


GDP per cubic meter of water use (2000 dollars)
2. Water-Rich, Water-Poor
• Uneven distribution of water on a global scale
- 6 countries (Brazil, Russia, Canada, Indonesia, China,
and Colombia) account for half of Earth’s freshwater
• Water-poor areas have higher demands
because crop production requires more
irrigation in drier climates
Estimated Annual Water Withdrawals
Per Capita, Selected Countries (2000)

Ethiopia 42

Brazil 348

Russian Federation 527

India 640

Egypt 1011

United States 1932

Cubic Meters Per Person Per Year

Source: FAO, USGS
Affluence and Poverty
• Influence of power, politics, and money
can override natural abundance or scarcity
of water
Phoenix, Arizona: Desert Ethiopia: 84% of the Nile’s
climate, but imports water flow originates within its
from Colorado River territory, but faces famine
due to drought
Populations Lacking Access to Safe
Drinking Water and Sanitation (2000)

1 out of 5 people in developing world

(1.1 billion people) face risk of disease and
death due to lack of access to safe drinking water

No Safe No Adequate
Region Drinking Water Sanitation

Africa 36% 40%

Asia 19% 53%

Latin America &

Caribbean 13% 22%
Source: World Health Organization
Meeting Basic Needs

• Urgent task: to provide all people with

minimum amount of clean water needed
for good health and sanitation

• More than enough water to accommodate

everyone’s basic needs but political will
and financial commitment lacking

• When private corporations manage water

systems, cost-recovery can take priority
over meeting basic needs
3. Water, Crops, and Diets
Must raise productivity of agricultural water use
to meet growing food needs as water stress
deepens and spreads

Three Challenges:

• Delivering and applying water to

crops more efficiently
• Increasing yields per liter of water
• Shifting diets to satisfy nutritional
needs with less water
Water, Crops, and Diets
• Surface water irrigation efficiency is
typically poor (can be as low as 25-40%)
• Losses due to leaks, seepage, evaporation
Improving Irrigation Efficiency
Micro-irrigation methods

- drip and micro-sprinklers reduce

volume of water applied to fields
by 30-70% and increase crop
yields by 20-90%

Changes in cropping patterns and

growing methods
- using high-yielding and early-
maturing crop varieties
- deficit irrigation: only watering
plants during critical growth stages
Improving Irrigation Efficiency
Affordable technologies for small plots

- ex.: treadle pumps: human

powered devices that give access
to shallow groundwater

Collecting and storing rainfall

- using ponds, check dams, and

other structures to irrigate crops
during dry season, recharge
Dietary Choices
Water consumed to supply 10g of protein
Water consumed to supply 500 calories
Liters of Water


3000 1515

421 251
89 219 1000
1000 303
67 132 135 204

potatoes beans
beans wheat
w heat rice
rice poultry
poultry beef

Based on California crop yields and water productivity. Source: Renault and Wallender (2000)
Dietary Choices
• Average U.S. diet, high in
meat content, requires twice
as much water as an equally
nutritious vegetarian diet

• Cutting consumption of animal products in half

would reduce:
- nation’s dietary requirements of water by 37%
- incidence of heart disease
- cruelty to animals
- pollution of streams from industrial animal feedlots
4. Cities and Homes
• Waste is a major urban water management
• In many cities, water losses are 15% - 40%,
some higher
• Unaccounted-for Water (UFW): volume of
water withdrawn from nature but that never
reaches an end-user, due to
- Leaky pipes and mains
- Theft
- Meter inaccuracies
Problems with Urban Water Losses

• Surrounding regions experience water stress:

withdrawals outstripping available supplies
• When surplus water is extracted
- Rivers run dry
- Habitats wither
- Wildlife disappears

• More energy required to pump, treat, and

distribute excess water
• This “lost” water, if recovered, could help cities
facing scarcity meet their water needs
Household Water Use,
Selected Cities and Countries

Kenya 47

United Kingdom 149

Waterloo, Canada 218

Sydney, Australia 255

Seattle, United States 281

Phoenix, United States 832

0 200 400 600 800 1000

Liters Per Capita Per Day
Source: Thompson et al. (2001), National Water Demand Management Centre, Environment Agency,
U.K. (2003), Gombos (2003), Water Services Association of Australia (2001), Mayer et al. (1999)
Household Water Use
Tips to reduce indoor household water
consumption by almost 50%:

• Install water-efficient fixtures

(toilets, showerheads, faucets)

• Choose water-efficient appliances

(clothes washers, dishwashers)
Household Water Use
• Large domestic water demand for irrigation of
lawns, landscapes, and golf courses
- 30 billion liters of water a day in the U.S.
• 45 million kg of fertilizers and chemicals used
per year
• Excess fertilizers and chemicals run off into
streams, seep into groundwater
- contaminating drinking water
- polluting lakes and ponds
Household Water Use
To reduce outdoor water consumption…
• Use more efficient sprinklers and irrigation
• Choose natural landscaping and native plants
- drought-adaptive grasses, groundcovers, wildflowers
and plants that thrive naturally in local climate
5. Industrial Water Use and
Material Goods Consumption
• Major water-using industries:
Thermal electric power
Iron and steel
Pulp and paper
Machinery manufacture

• Water is used for cooling, washing,

processing, heating

• In developing countries, pollutant loads

rising along with industrial water demand
Industrial Water Use and
Material Goods Consumption

Incentives for increasing efficiency of

water use in industrial facilities:
• Cost savings
• Need to comply with permit
• Advances in technologies that allow
process water to be reused and recycled
• Availability of low-cost reclaimed
nonpotable water
How Individuals Can Reduce
Their Impacts on Freshwater

1. Purchase fewer material goods

3. Eat a nutritious, less meat-

intensive diet

5. Select native plants and grasses for

landscapes, rely on natural rainfall
How Individuals Can Reduce
Their Impacts on Freshwater

1. Install water-efficient appliances

and fixtures

3. Support local land use ordinances

that protect wetlands, aquifers,
and watersheds

5. Serve on local water management

boards to monitor and enforce
water protection strategies
6. Policy Priorities:
Government Action

1. Protect public trust in water

3. Institute or strengthen
groundwater regulations to
promote sustainable use

5. Implement tiered water pricing

to encourage conservation:
unit price of water increases
along with consumption
Policy Priorities:
Government Action

1. Restrict water use during

seasonal lows

3. Encourage water trading

between willing sellers and
buyers to reallocate available
About the Authors
“Boosting Water Productivity”
by Sandra Postel and Amy Vickers

Sandra Postel is co-author of Rivers for Life:

Managing Water for People and Nature (Island
Press, 2003), and director of the Global Water Policy
Project in Amherst, MA.
More at

Amy Vickers, author of the award-winning Handbook of

Water Use and Conservation: Homes, Businesses,
Landscapes, Industries, Farms (WaterPlow Press) is
an engineer and water conservation specialist based in
Amherst, MA.
More at
More information on
State of the World 2004