Concerted effort needed to prevent 40% fresh water shortfall by 2035

On World Water Day 2017, MWH is today calling for a concerted effort to innovate and invest to address the current and future stresses on global water supply.

David Smith, chief strategy officer of MWH, now part of Stantec, urges that failure to tackle the problem of water consumption will bring serious consequences to communities around the world. 

The theme of World Water Day this year is wastewater, exploring how the world can both reduce and re-use wastewater. Focussing on the interlinked issues of wastewater and water stress, Smith is calling for specific attention on three key areas - the circular economy, precision agriculture and nanotechnology. 

Smith argues that:

Water and energy industries must leverage the circular economy to maximise water resources by embracing the role of new technologies. This will serve to not only reduce waste but generate new sources of revenue from mineral extraction. 

The water industry is on the cusp of deploying nanotechnology to improve water treatment and filtration at a fraction of today’s costs, disrupting the water industry at all levels, but this requires investment to make it a reality. 

Adoption of precision agriculture techniques is needed across the world. Agriculture currently accounts for 70% of global water consumption and Smith believes software and automation-driven techniques will help improve efficiency in agriculture, delivering urgent innovation needed to tackle water shortages and reducing wastewater. 

“We need the best brains in the sector to figure out how we relieve the massive stresses that there are in the water system. If we don’t act now we are at risk of burdening future generations with problems which can be solved today,” said Smith.

“It is generally accepted that unless large-scale re-invention and coordinated system-wide action is taken both locally and regionally, the world faces a 40% shortfall in fresh water supplies well before 2035 - even in stable climate scenarios that exclude major regional or global shocks,” Smith said.

Smith believes the consequences of such a shortfall would be profound with widespread systemic failures, not solely in water, but through interlinked energy and agricultural systems, which would create widespread economic, social and political turmoil.

Smith added: “But there are solutions. The water and energy industries must rise to the challenge of deploying new technologies and adopting progressive new community based approaches to turn the tide of water stress.” 

MWH has commissioned Peter Kingsley, an expert in agenda-setting foresight and innovation, to collaborate in the development of fresh thinking about the future of the water industry and to write a series of eight essays exploring the critical uncertainties, challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. “Water Futures – Water, Energy and Agriculture to 2035” is the result of that collaboration.

The essays will be serialised on the MWH website here.

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