Report: Global Demand for Fresh Water Set to Exceed Supply

By: CBS MoneyWatch
By: CBS MoneyWatch

April 21, 2014

CBS MoneyWatch - Think about this the next time your mouth goes dry and you could really use a glass of cool, clean water: Analysts with Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Research warn in a recent report that, when it comes to global drinking water supplies, a "perfect storm" is approaching.

"Water scarcity is a pressing people and planet issue," they write, noting that 768 million people around the world have no access to clean drinking water and 2.5 billion are without proper sanitation.

Fresh water makes up about 2.5 percent of all the water on earth. Meanwhile, humans have already reached "peak water," according to B of A. That means we're at the limit, or approaching the limit, of environmental, physical and economic demands on the renewable freshwater supply.

The report also projects that half of the world's population will be dealing with "water stress" conditions -- defined as when the demand for water is exceeded by the available amount -- by 2030. And by 2050, 45 percent of projected GDP could be at risk, with as many as 50 nations expected to be involved in conflicts over water.

Water shortages and scarcity are already a major issue in the U.S. The ongoing drought in California is affecting food prices across the country. Meanwhile, the state is planning a series of costly and controversial water desalination plants along its coastline.

In California, "water has become the input that is constraining all agricultural outputs right now," said J.R. DeShazo, director of UCLA's Luskin Center for Innovation. "And I think that has renewed the policy focus, and the management focus, on how to better utilize what we have, and how to plan for, in the future, reliability and supplies."

Several years ago the Environmental Protection Agency estimated the average annual U.S. water bill, per household at around $300. It also noted that most Americans pay less for their drinking water than they do for electricity, cable television, telephone or other goods and services.

But those days appear to be over. As a result, DeShazo said, Americans need to rethink their water usage. "We have treated it as if it were a free resource, as if it were a superabundant resource."

And while there are a variety of public policy solutions when it comes to how we deal with energy, waste disposal and recycling issues, he added, our approach to water supply and management still needs to come into the 21st century.

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