California, Brazil, Iran, Matt Damon: What’s in Common?

California may only have a year of water left in its reservoirs, NASA says. Thirsty Brazilians are drilling through their basements for water. And Iran is short of water from border to border as its lakes and wetlands shrink.

In these days of drought, climate change and poor water management, it’s not a pretty picture. Water.org head Gary White has helped 2.8 million people in India and 11 other nations gain access to clean water and improved sanitation yet even with such efforts he acknowledges he can play second fiddle to actor Matt Damon, his non-profit group’s co-founder.

“I’ll always be outshined by Matt but that’s OK with me,” White, an engineer by training, said in a phone interview last month. “He’s not a celebrity spokesperson. What he is is a strategic partner” who “brings so much to the table.”

Partners are needed to work for the greater good of a world where 14 percent of the population still defecate outdoors. About 35 percent of the planet’s 7 billion people live without sanitation such as toilets and latrines, and some 1.8 billion drink faecally contaminated water, according to the World Health Organization.

With Earth due to add another India-size population, or about 1.2 billion, over the next 15 years, “by 2030 we will need 30 percent more water, 40 percent more energy, 50 percent more food,” according to Dow Chemical Co.’s Dow Water & Process Solutions unit.

As the United Nations’ annual World Water Day nears Sunday, it’s a serious reminder about what matters as poor water, sanitation and hygiene in communities and institutional settings, especially health facilities, have been blamed for exacerbating the spread of Ebola in West Africa.

Solution Options

While White’s group offers microfinance loans to the needy, with 93 percent of WaterCredit recipients women, desalination remains an option to help address “the world’s water-scarcity challenge,” which affects an estimated 700 million in 43 countries, said Avshalom Felber, chief executive officer of IDE Technologies Ltd.

His company’s seawater reverse-osmosis desalination plant in Sorek, Israel, produces enough clean, potable water per day for over 1.5 million people, comprising about 20 percent of the country’s municipal water, Felber said by e-mail.

In combination with three seawater-desalination facilities in Israel, the country’s four plants account for a total of 40 percent of its water supply, he said.

Ripple Effects

While the San Diego area has a 50 million-gallon-a-day desalination facility due for completion this year in Carlsbad and a similar one proposed for Huntington Beach, California and Brazil continue to suffer the ripple effects of drought.

The number of condos in Sao Paulo seeking permission to drill wells in Brazil’s biggest city has jumped amid the metropolis’s worst drought in eight decades. The Department of Water and Sewage granted 1,058 permits for drilling in 2014, 17 percent more than a year earlier, according to Globo TV.

Regulators this week tightened restrictions on water use in California as the record drought in the most-populous U.S. state enters a fourth year. New rules by the California State Water Resources Control Board prohibit watering lawns after a rainstorm and limit residential watering to two days a week.

U.S. residents use about 100 gallons of water a day, more from flushing toilets than showering or any other activity. That’s twice Europeans’ rate. Sub-Saharan Africans in contrast use 2 to 5 gallons of water daily, according to the World Water Council.

Demand Projection

By 2050, global water demand is projected to increase 55 percent, mostly from manufacturing, thermal electricity generation and domestic use, including rising urbanization in developing countries, the UN World Water Development Report said. Almost half the water used by Americans is for thermoelectric power generation, data shows.

Groundwater supplies are diminishing, with an estimated 20 percent of the world’s aquifers currently over-exploited, according to the UN report Friday.

Don’t forget: “We are citizens of a shared water future and we must share that responsibility,” Pat Mulroy, former general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority in Las Vegas, said last week. The U.S.’s largest manmade reservoir at Lake Mead, which supplies most of the water for Vegas, is at the lowest since the Hoover Dam was created in the 1930s.

With groundwater and snowpack levels at all-time lows and about a year of water supply left in reservoirs, “we’re not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we’re losing the creek too,” water scientist Jay Famiglietti wrote March 13 in a Los Angeles Times editorial.

“Water and sanitation must be clear priorities if we are to create a future that allows everyone to live healthy, prosperous and dignified lives,” Michel Jarraud, who chairs UN Water, said ahead of World Water Day.

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