The Earth’s surface is mostly water, yet across increasingly large swaths of the planet, H2O reservoirs are drying up. This isn’t a metaphor, and it’s not hyperbole. It’s a fact that’s changing the destinies of companies and nations.
Three of the world’s greatest rivers, the Colorado in the U.S., the Nile in Egypt and the Yellow River in China, have been so depleted by cities, farms, factories and dams along their banks that they often no longer reach the sea. Growth in the desert city of Las Vegas, which depends on Colorado River water contained by the Hoover Dam, has been stunted not only by a spectacular real estate crash, but by a 46 percent drop in the amount of water in Lake Mead, behind the dam. Simply put, there’s no more water to be taken.
It’s not that the world is running out of water, says Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, an environmental research organization in San Francisco. It’s that there’s not enough water where it’s needed, and it can’t be easily transported. Globally, the amount of renewable water available for each inhabitant has dropped from over 10,000 cubic meters in 1990 to 7,770 in 2010. It could trickle to 4,870 by 2050, as the world’s population grows.