October 20, 2012
By Pacific Institute Staff
Water is life. Growing pressure on water resources – from population and economic growth, climate change, pollution, and other challenges – has major impacts on our social, economic, and environmental well-being. Many of our most important aquifers are being over-pumped, causing widespread declines in groundwater levels. Major rivers – including the Colorado River in the western United States and the Yellow River in China – no longer reach the sea in most years. The California drought is exacerbating the large and growing gap between the state’s water use and the available water supply. Half of the world’s wetlands have been lost to development. The world’s water is increasingly becoming degraded in quality, threatening the health of people and ecosystems and increasing the cost of treatment. Some 780 million people around the globe still lack access to clean water and thousands perish daily for lack of it.
The world’s water problems stem from our failure to meet basic human needs, ineffective or inappropriate institutions and management, and our inability to balance human needs with the needs of the natural world. These maladies are rooted in a wasteful use of water, characterized by poor management systems, improper economic incentives, underinvestment, failure to apply existing technologies, and an antiquated mindset focused almost exclusively on developing new supplies – to the exclusion of “soft path” conservation and efficiency measures.
Since our founding in 1987, the Pacific Institute has worked to identify challenges facing our water resources and find solutions – solutions that promote the sustainable management of water resources, in California and around the world. Our research brings attention to key issues that have often been overlooked: the impact of climate change on water, water as a basic human right, the importance of conservation and efficiency, the role of water in conflict, the globalization and privatization of water, threats to the world’s water, and more.
Underlying all of the Pacific Institute’s work is the belief that a new approach to the way we plan, manage, and use water is urgently needed. The good news is that we are making progress. We have focused water policymakers at all levels to look at the risks of climate change on water supply. Our push toward a reevaluation of the importance of water-use conservation and efficiency is leading to fundamental changes in water policy in the western United States and around the world. The work continues, because more needs to be done – much more. The most important change we can make is in the way we think about, value, and manage our water.