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2 Tutorials that teach Water Availability
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Water Availability

Water Availability

Author: Sophia Tutorial

Recognize issues related to the availability of water.

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what's covered
This tutorial will cover the topic of water availability. We will discuss water supply and demand, and the factors contributing to the issue of demand out-distancing supply. We will cover the issue of water shortages and their causes, as well as different ways to address water supply problems.

Our discussion breaks down as follows:

  • Water Supply and Demand
  • Water Shortages
  • Water Supply Solutions

1. Water Supply and Demand

Water supply on Earth is finite, and as demand grows, it is out-distancing supply, creating water conflict.

Demand is being increased by three main causes:

  1. Population growth
  2. Increasing use of water for technology and industry
  3. Increasing water-wasting behaviors and practices

As mentioned before, the amount of total usable water is fixed. Although it can be recycled through the hydrological cycle, we are using it faster than it can replenish itself. In addition, we are decreasing presently available freshwater with pollution, biological contaminants, and receding glaciers, which are producing less and less freshwater as they melt into the ocean.

Population growth is also increasing the demand for water. However, it isn't proportional. Currently, human water use is increasing at double the rate of our population growth. Many major aquifers, where we get much of our freshwater, are dramatically shrinking.


Consider the Ogallala Aquifer in the midwestern United States. Water is being withdrawn much faster than it can be recharged. The map below shows that the darker red, yellow, and orange patches indicate where the aquifer has been decreasing.

Ogallala Aquifer

Ogallala supports almost 5.5 million hectares of agricultural land, or about one-third of the groundwater used for irrigation in the United States, while also providing for at least 2.3 million people's drinking water. Since 1940, the water table in that area has declined around 300 feet.

2. Water Shortages

The chart below breaks down the demand of water into its various uses. Globally, agriculture accounts for 70% of freshwater taken from streams and rivers. Industry utilizes 19% of all freshwater available, and households use the remaining 11%.

Global Freshwater Demand

Around the world, many people cannot afford or even access clean drinking water. At least one billion people don't have access to it. At least one-fifth of the world's population lives in a location with physical scarcity of safe drinking water.

Not unlike food, water shortages are oftentimes a result of distribution problems. Other causes can generally be a dry climate, periodic drought, or over-population exceeding local water supply.


California is a prime example of this problem, suffering from all three in 2014 when the worst drought in 1,200 years struck, putting numerous towns and cities into water shortages. Many farmers lost large portions of their crops, which impacted the rest of the United States because California provides a large portion of the country's food.

California Drought Map


Another example of water shortage is the one currently occurring in India's capital, New Delhi. New Delhi's per capita availability of fresh water is greater than that of Paris, yet New Delhi cannot always provide reliable freshwater. This is primarily a distribution issue, as New Delhi's poor distribution network results in a lot of unaccounted-for water.

3. Water Supply Solutions

There are strategies to improve water supply and demand issues. These solutions include:

  • Policies that restrict aquifer depletion, which can improve supply by conserving it
  • Improving water quality and preserving the health of aquatic ecosystems, which can protect the supply we do have from further contamination
  • Broad watershed management, which can conservatively and fairly distribute water across various sectors to provide adequate water, while preserving enough for future use by making agreements between groups and regions on how best to share water resources
  • Decreasing government subsidies on water will increase its cost and lead to decreased consumption
  • Educational campaigns for water conservation can reduce overall demand

Today we learned about water supply and demand, as well as the factors that contribute to the issue of demand out-distancing supply. We learned about water shortages and what causes them. Lastly, we explored solutions to water supply issues.

Source: Adapted from Sophia instructor Jensen Morgan, OGALLALA CC HTTP://BIT.LY/1KK1EML CALI DROUGHT PD HTTP://BIT.LY/1XTDOVV