New global study says our escalating water crisis is also about quality


What do you get when you mix climate change, burgeoning populations and growing economies? According to a new study by the International Food Policy Research Institute and Veolia, the answer is increased water pollution. In plain speak, dirtier water. We’re talking higher nitrogen levels, increasing phosphorus pollution and high biochemical oxygen demand.

That means the global water crisis isn’t just about quantity; it’s also about the future quality of our water supplies.

The study — The Murky Future of Global Water Quality — was released as part of the 7th World Water Forum. In it, researchers suggest that by 2050, water quality could rapidly deteriorate in many countries, exposing up to 1 in 3 people to water pollution.

Related: EPA Helps Protect Oklahoma’s Waters with $11.2 Million Grant

“The global water crisis is not science fiction,” says Ed Pinero, senior vice president, sustainability, Veolia North America. “The evidence of drought in the United States and in many parts of the world is real enough. Now, we’re seeing how the impacts of levels of organic pollutants can affect our health and society.”

In its worst-case scenario, the study predicts that by 2050, 1 in 3 people will be at risk for phosphorus pollution; 1 in 3 will be at risk of nitrogen pollution; and 1 in 5 will experience water pollution from BOD. The greatest areas of risk are predicted to be in Asia. But the United States isn’t out of the water, so to speak. Because of its agricultural production, the Midwest is predicted to face high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution.

This study is interesting because it’s perhaps the first attempt at predicting future water quality. We’ve seen and heard plenty about the predicted effects of climate change on our water supply — just turn on any news channel and you’ll hear about the California drought. We know we’re potentially facing water supply challenges in just a few decades. But this study takes it just a step further and looks at how clean that supply will be.

Related: EPA Helps Protect Louisiana’s Waters with $15.3M Grant

And the answer? Or at least part of it? Greater investment in water treatment.

Along with tackling agricultural issues that contribute to water pollutants, the paper calls for more immediate, more aggressive investment in water and wastewater treatment. This means construction of new treatment facilities and the replacement of aging infrastructure. It means better management of stormwater runoff and innovative approaches to nonpoint source pollution.

If nothing else, this new study provides even more reason for investment in our water and wastewater infrastructure. Consider it an extra piece of kindling to add to the funding fire.

Related: New Jersey Receives $70M for Water Infrastructure Projects

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