Last weekend, Jessica Yu's new water documentary "Last Call at the Oasis" took us on tour of the impacts water scarcity is creating around the globe, from the parched pastures of Australia's farmlands to the sewage-polluted banks of the Jordan River. This film shines a much-needed light on the various water challenges we all now face at a critical time. The numbers alone are eye-opening.
If current water usage trends continue, by 2025, two-thirds of the world's population -- or 5.3 billion people -- will be vulnerable to water shortages. What many here in the U.S. may not know is that we are far from immune to water stress. One need look no further than Texas, where a record-breaking drought last year created massive water shortages that significantly impacted the state's water supplies, agriculture and industry.
Although the world's water supply works in a continuous cycle of consumption and replenishment -- we are currently using more at a faster pace -- and nature is not able to keep up. It's no longer enough to conserve water during droughts, or to turn off the tap while we brush our teeth. Water reuse must be part of the long-term solution.
The time has come to look past the "yuck factor" that some associate with treating and reusing "used" water, rather than drawing from our shrinking fresh supplies. The water used in today's morning shower shouldn't disappear down the drain, but rather find new life to feed crops or produce electricity.
By recycling and reusing water, governments and businesses will be able to better insulate themselves against the impacts of climate change, as reclaimed water can be used to irrigate fields, sustain industrial activity and even create drinking water. Looking ahead, our community and business leaders must take steps to advance water recycling and reuse in order to secure a sustainable water future.
Many forward thinking governments across the country are already taking steps to adapt to this new reality. A panel discussion I recently moderated at the American Bar Association's Water Law Conference uncovered ways that local, state and federal agencies are adapting to the changing water landscape.
For example, New York City, which currently gets about 50 percent of its daily water supply from the 330 mile long Delaware River, is constructing a filtration plant to produce water to meet up to 30 percent of demand from its eight million residents. The city predicts that the water supply will shrink from reduced snowpack and decrease in quality from more frequent storms.
Industry is also waking up to the critical role it can play to turn this crisis around. More than 20 percent of the world's freshwater is currently used in industrial applications. Water-intensive industries, such as the high-tech or pharmaceutical sectors, can recycle water to shield themselves against higher costs or a diminished supply that could disrupt operations and impact profitability.
Companies like AB InBev, who recently made a commitment to drastically reduce the amount of water used per liter of beer, and Levi's, currently marketing "water-less jeans," are two examples among a growing number of corporations tackling this issue.
However, water scarcity is too important and the resource too precious to allow the burden to hang on the shoulders of a few cities or industries. The solution lies in a combination of factors that include government policy, technological innovation and collaboration.