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Pacific Institute Insights is the staff blog of the Pacific Institute, one of the world’s leading nonprofit research groups on sustainable and equitable management of natural resources. For more about what we do, click here.

  • Q&A with Sarah Diringer: A Multi-benefits Approach to Water Management

    Earlier this week, Pacific Institute Communications Manager Rebecca Olson sat down with Pacific Institute Senior Researcher Dr. Sarah Diringer to talk about the challenges and promises of a multiple benefits approach to water management.

    Rebecca Olson: Tell me about the work you are doing at the Pacific Institute on developing a comprehensive framework to evaluate multiple benefits of water investment strategies.

    Sarah Diringer: There is broad recognition that we need to invest in our man-made water systems and our natural environment in order to adapt to climate change, address population growth, and update our aging infrastructure. There are a lot of options for investing in water management, ranging from water restoration to efficiency improvements, water reuse, and stormwater capture. In addition to helping our water systems, many of these strategies can also provide important “co-benefits” or additional benefits, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, providing habitat, or enhancing community livability.

    Public and private entities don’t always consider each of these benefits when selecting a management strategy. Over the past year, we have been working with a large group of stakeholders to develop a framework for examining multiple benefits that can help water managers and decision makers to better account for the benefits and the costs of water management decisions.

    Rebecca Olson: What are the challenges to implementing a multi-benefits approach to water management? How does the framework you are developing address these challenges? …»

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  • The Stormwater Opportunity

    By Morgan Shimabuku and Sarah Diringer

    October 4, 2018

    Navigating around puddles that form on streets and in parking lots after a rainstorm can be a nuisance. But this water, technically known as stormwater, has the potential to become an important water supply for many Californian communities. For example, one study showed enough potential supply from stormwater in major urban and suburban centers in California to annually provide millions of gallons for the recharge of local aquifers. In addition to providing valuable water supply, effective stormwater management can help reduce local flooding and prevent trash and other pollution from getting into streams or the ocean. What’s more, many stormwater capture projects have further co-benefits, such as providing habitat, reducing urban temperatures, reducing energy use, creating community recreation spaces, and increasing property values.

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  • Water is a Source of Growing Tension and Violence in the Middle East

    By Peter Gleick and Charles Iceland

    August 27, 2018

    In the hot, dry Middle East, where populations are growing rapidly and all major rivers cross political borders, water has become a focal point for escalating violence. From the foothills of the Taurus Mountains in Turkey that feed the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to the desert wadis on the southern tip of Yemen, the history of water conflicts provides a cautionary tale: When water and politics mix, and when cooperation gives way to conflict, freshwater becomes an issue of human and national security and a tool of violence.

    The long history of conflict in the region is intertwined with the history of water. The earliest recorded water fight is a dispute around 2400 BC over the use of irrigation canals in the ancient Mesopotamian cities of Umma and Lagash between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. When the walls and temples of Babylon were razed around 690 BC, the waters of the Euphrates were used to wash away the ruins.
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  • Coping with the Impacts of Climate Change on Coffee Cultivation in Brazil

    By Giuliana Chaves Moreira
    May 4, 2018

    Climate change poses severe threats and negative impacts to agricultural production in Brazil and around the world. However, emerging water stewardship practices can be a critical force in mitigating and adapting to these impacts.

    The main effects of climate change on agriculture are related to changes in the availability of water to crops and the occurrence of more severe and more frequent extreme weather phenomena, such as floods, heat waves, frost, hurricanes, droughts, and more.

    Data from the Brazilian Panel on Climate Change indicate that Brazil could lose about 11 million hectares of agricultural land due to climate change by 2030.

    Coffee cultivation is of particular concern as Brazil is the world’s biggest coffee producer – yielding 2,595,000 metric tons of coffee beans in 2016 alone – and has been for over 150 years. Coffee cultivation is sensitive to both high and low temperatures, and as such faces significant climate risks. According to the estimates of the IPCC report released in 2014, the combination of the increase in average temperature and the scarcity of water resources would considerably reduce coffee cultivation.
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  • Collective Action Toward Water Security in Brazil

    By Abbey Warner and Giuliana Chaves Moreira
    March 29, 2018

    Credit: Ryan Tacklin

    Brazil’s water basins hold 12% of the world’s freshwater, yet the country continues to face serious water challenges, with multiple effects on people, environment, and the economy. Brazil estimates that close to 35 million citizens lack access to safe water, while 100 million lack access to appropriate sanitation. Water pollution and wetlands degradation threaten the country’s myriad species of flora and fauna. Meanwhile, 30-40% of treated water is lost during distribution, a significant economic loss. And multiple water risks threaten business viability. The country’s growing economy and burgeoning population, combined with its vulnerability to climate change, will place added pressure on its water resources.
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  • Water is Connected to Every Major Global Risk We Face

    By Cora Kammeyer
    February 2, 2018

    Water crises have been among the top five global risks in each of the last seven years, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF). This year is no exception. ‘Water Crises’ is listed as the fifth-most impactful risk for 2018. In addition to being a major risk in its own right, water is also linked to many other of the most significant risks, social and environmental, confronting our society today.

    Defining Water Crises

    “Water Crises: A significant decline in the available quality and quantity of fresh water, resulting in harmful effects on human health and/or economic activity.”

    – WEF Global Risks Report 2018

    While WEF’s definition of “water crises” is focused on insufficiency, it is important to remember that the world’s water challenges are not constrained to scarcity and pollution. As we have said before, physical water risks can stem from a variety of issues, including having too much water, not enough water, or water that is unfit for use. This year’s risk report highlighted all three types of water challenges: …»

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  • Why Companies Should Dip Their Toes in Clean Water (and Sanitation): The Private Sector and SDG 6

    By Abbey Warner
    November 29, 2017

    “While considerable progress has been made over the past decade across all areas of development, the pace of progress observed in previous years is insufficient to fully meet the Sustainable Development Goals and targets by 2030.”United Nations, 2017

    As of 2015, 29 percent of the world population did not have access to safely managed drinking water and 61 percent did not have access to a safely managed sanitation service, according to a World Health Organization and UNICEF report. Additionally, more than 40 percent of the global population is affected by water scarcity, and that number is projected to rise. Meanwhile, more than 80 percent of global wastewater is discharged without treatment.

    In 2015, the United Nations Member States committed to the 2030 Agenda, a 15-year plan to support people, the planet, and prosperity. The Agenda aims to eradicate global poverty sustainably and …»

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  • The World’s Water Challenges(2017)

    By Cora Kammeyer
    October 19, 2017

    Water is perhaps the most vital natural resource on the planet. It is necessary for human survival and a critical input into our food, manufacturing, and energy systems. It also sustains the ecosystems and climates upon which both our built and natural world rely.

    Today we are putting more pressure on freshwater resources than ever. Between a rapidly growing population and a shifting climate, water stress – and therefore water risk –  is increasing around the world. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 is focused on water, with several sub-goals related to different water challenges. We have seen promising progress, but there is much work to be done to make water sustainability a reality before the SDG target date of 2030.

    Global water stress map. Source: World Resources Institute.

    Growing Water Demand and Water Scarcity

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  • Watershed Context & Water Stewardship Goals: Why Thinking Local is Critical to Hedging Global Corporate Water Risk

    By Morgan Campbell
    October 10, 2017

     

    What do the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, destructive monsoon flooding in Mumbai, India, Hurricane Harvey’s devastating storm surges in Texas, the recent five-year California drought, and the hypoxic dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico all have in common? They are all water risk events. Although they are characterized by differences in geography, they show water risks faced today are as diverse as the world’s topography and precipitation patterns. And while global pollutants, such as carbon or chlorofluorocarbons, can be addressed by global reduction initiatives, the inherently local nature of water risk requires that we weave together localized solutions to protect the future sustainability of water resources. …»

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  • How Your Business Can Play a Role in Ending the Global Water and Sanitation Crisis

    By Peter Schulte
    August 23, 2017

    No one need explain the true value of water to 54-year-old Elizabeth and her family in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.  She spends more than half her meagre salary on buying drinking water from a local water vendor, as she knows the water from the nearby lake could make her unwell, unproductive and unable to provide for her family.

    Elizabeth knows that installing a safe water supply and decent toilet close to her home and market stall makes good business sense. She’ll spend less money on buying water. And a decent toilet will increase her productivity and reduce her absence from work, because she’ll get sick less often. In the long-run, if $1 were invested in water and sanitation, an average of $4 would be returned in increased productivity.

    Imagine now that instead of Elizabeth working at an independent market stall, she works in the supply chain of a multi-national food retailer. The lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in her workplace could cost the company millions in lost productivity; every year, the equivalent of US$4 billion in working days are lost due to poor sanitation.

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