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What is Water Scarcity?

A Basic Need in Crisis

by Shannyn Snyder

After long excluding the word “water” from its guidelines, constitutions and bills of rights since the 1940s, both the United Nations (UN) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in conferences and appearances from the late 1970s to present have verbally recognized water as a basic human need and even more importantly, a human right.[1] Yet worldwide, water scarcity of usable, potable water threatens of lives of every population.[2]

In the UN World Water Report of 2006, it was noted that "there is enough water for everyone" and "water insufficiency is often due to mismanagement, corruption, lack of appropriate institutions, bureaucratic inertia and a shortage of investment in both human capacity and physical infrastructure".[3] That is, a lesser known predator of world water to the commonly discussed pollution and climate warming is privatization by large corporations, and it is a large cause of water scarcity.[4]

A new independent documentary by Irena Salina called “Flow,” which premiered at the 2008 Sundance Festival and opened in select theaters in September 2008 has already received various awards and acclaim for bringing attention to the corporate side of the dwindling fresh water supply. For more information, see

Water for capital is a growing concern in many countries and a long-time reality for many in the third-world in particular, where citizens are being forced to pay for clean water that was once accessible in their own villages.[5] When water for a price is being made more readily available in some areas than “free” water, which is often a one day walk for an African mother or young child, to encourage the population to “pay” for this basic need, it can cause unrest and even death for those who fight over the availability and die because they have no means in which to pay.[6] When large transnational corporations produce annual profits higher than most gross national product of many countries, it seems like an impossible fight for the poorest consumers.[7]

Water privatization is not just a third world problem either. In Western countries, corporations are not only bottling spring water but also tap water and selling this normally free resource back to us, and we are buying. Not only are we purchasing the bottled “free” water but large companies are both draining and polluting local rivers and waters in order to conserve enough water for their own manufacturing use, in order to be able to mix and bottle their other drinking products such as soda and tea.[8] Due to lack of widespan global awareness, public activism is already lagging. That is, in order to fight water scarcity, even something as simple as choosing a beverage may become a political statement, and a well-informed public will be key to any sustainable solution.

(some links below have been "cut"-place on one line in browser)

[1] The Human Right to Water, Pacinst



[2] Water Crisis, Wikipedia

[3] UN World Water Report 2006, UN


[4] Water Privatization Backgrounder,

Public Citizen

Water/a ctivist/articles.cfm?ID=9589

[5] Water Tap Often Shut to South Africa’s Poor, Global Policy Forum


[6] Whose Hand on the Tap: Water Privatization in South Africa, CBC News


[7] CorpWatch: Busting the Water Cartel,


[8] Fact over Fiction: Why Pick Tap over Bottled Water?, Public Citizen


Coke, Pepsi under Fire Once Again,



What is Water Scarcity?

by Emily Bremer

Water is the most precious resource on earth and vital to all forms of life, and unfortunately is often taken for granted. For many people, clean water is readily available at the turn of a tap, and water scarcity seems like a far away problem. However 1.1 billon people are affected by water scarcity and it is a growing problem on every continent. While it seems like there is an abundance of fresh water all around us, in reality only 3% of the earth’s water is fresh water.

Water scarcity is the lack of sufficient resources to meet a population’s needs. There are two types of water scarcity, economic, (safe water can be found but is expensive and difficult to come by) and physical water scarcity (limited water resources).

Economic Water Scarcity

Economic water scarcity often occurs in developing countries where an unstable political climate or conflicts keep people from accessing clean water. People often have to walk long distances to find water when facing this type of water scarcity. Currently the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has created a lasting economic water scarcity problem for Palestinians. The water resources in the Occupied Palestinian Territories have been controlled by Israel since 1967. Furthermore, the dry climate and droughts that have occurred in recent years have aggravated the problem. This is just one example of how political conflicts contribute to water scarcity, and sadly this is a frequent occurrence in many developing countries. The privatization of water has also created huge disparities in water access and takes advantage of vulnerable populations. While many advocate privatizing water to help build infrastructure and increase access to water in reality it raises the cost and causes more uneven distribution of resources. Water is a basic human necessity and allowing corporations to buy, sell, and profit on this need creates further conflict and makes it harder for people in these areas to survive, especially when they are already facing water scarcity, food shortages, and ethnic and political conflicts.

Physical Water Scarcity

Physical water scarcity is most often caused by dry climates, and droughts. However, it is also very much a man made problem in some areas. Currently in the United States the southwestern region is facing a growing water crisis. The Colorado River Basin serves around 30 million people and is used for everything from drinking water to farm use. The river is at less than 60% capacity due to drought which is caused by global warming and the shifting seasons. Higher temperatures cause more evaporation and less snowmelt. It is predicted to get worse with the expected rise in temperatures. The drying of the Colorado is also due to the dividing and damming of the river so it can be used by cities such as Las Vegas, San Diego and Phoenix. Water management officials in Nevada have enforced strict water schedules (no washing cars, and lawns), encouraged use of rocks instead of grass lawns, and attempted to return all wastewater to the Colorado River to help fix the problem.

California has also been impacted by a drought and a growing population that has forced the state to impose water restrictions and has caused a growing conflict between farmers and environmentalists. It has been reported that “…southern California shouldn't expect significant rain until October or November, and record heat and high winds contributed to damaging wildfires in San Diego County this week” (Petronzio, 2014).

Water scarcity is a problem that should be important to every person, after all it can so easily affect any one of us, and most likely will in the coming years.

Understanding Domestic Policy -

an Overview of Clean Water Act and

Safe Drinking Water Act

by Katherine Fite

Enacted in 1948, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act was the basic structure for regulating US waters. It was drastically reorganized and expanded in the early 1970’s and finally amended to what we mainly know today as the Clean Water Act (CWA). Though the CWA deals with US waters and surface water, it does not directly deal with groundwater or water quantity.

The main objective of the CWA is to restore and preserve the chemical, physical and biological integrity of our waters by preventing and regulating pollutant discharge. CWA programs currently use a collective watershed-based approach to dealing with pollution, rather than going by a pollutant or source basis. This approach emphasizes the protection and restoration of whole watersheds in contrary to monitoring one pollutant or one source.

Under the CWA, the EPA has implemented pollution control programs, created several regulatory and non-regulatory ways to reduce point source pollutant discharge into waterways, helped finance municipal wastewater treatment facilities, and managed pollutant run-off from nonpoint sources.

Perhaps the largest part of the CWA is made up of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program. The program’s main objective is to control point source pollution. Point source pollution is the discharge of pollutants by a facility from one source, such as a pipe or sewer.

Under this program, it is against the law to emit any pollutant from a point source into navigable waters without a NPDES permit. These permits place limits on the quantity of pollutants discharged and require the facility to monitor and report their pollutant discharge. These facilities are obligated to provide data that quantifies and identifies the pollutants that they emit. Permits for storm water discharge can also be obtained under the NPDES program. This permit deals with discharge control from the collection and transport of storm water by industrial facilities, city storm sewer systems, or other major contributors of storm water discharge.

Early on, the CWA was mainly focused on point source pollution from facilities such as sewage and wastewater treatment plants. As of late, it has placed more focus on pollutant discharge from nonpoint sources. These are widely distributed pollutants that cannot be traced to one location. Nonpoint source pollution includes agricultural pollutants (fertilizer, insecticide, livestock waste) and urban pollutants (oil, grease). A number of programs at the state level involve assistance and encouragement to major producers of nonpoint source pollution to use better management practices to reduce and prevent the amount of pollutants running off into the waterways.

Other notable portions of the CWA include wetland, estuary and coastal protection programs as well as the Oil Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasures program. In addition, the CWA outlines guidelines and regulations for biosolid discharge and use and the amount and type of discharge sent to publicly owned treatment works (sewage plants).

Another important piece of legislation used to protect US water systems is the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) passed in 1974. It was first enacted to protect human health by regulating the quality of the public drinking water system. After 1986 and 1996 amendments, the SDWA now also protects public drinking water sources, including rivers, lakes, ground water wells, reservoirs, and springs. In addition, the SDWA does not regulate the private wells that supply less than 25 people.

Under the SDWA, EPA sets standards for public drinking water quality and supervise those (government and private sectors) who implement the standards. Probably the most well known work EPA does under the SDWA is to set standards and regulate the levels of certain contaminants in the drinking water. These include chemical contaminants (arsenic, lead, copper) and microbial contaminants (fecal coliforms, E.coli, Legionella).

As previously mentioned, the SDWA was originally primarily focused on the quality of drinking water. There was more of a regulatory focus, specifically on tap water directly supplying consumers. Contaminants were dealt with after they were detected in the drinking supply and there was no regulation on drinking water sources. The 1996 amendments sought to correct these issues. The significant changes included emphasize on contamination prevention, consumer awareness and public information as an important aspect of safe drinking water, improved scientific studies and reviews and risk assessment, and funding for states and local communities.

The SDWA now allows programs the ability to give public drinking water systems an environmental outlook. Protecting source water provides water sustainability for both public water systems and consumers. The amendment has put focus on the state level to create and implement prevention programs and improve the operation of water systems as to avoid contamination as much as possible. It outlines the importance of risk assessment to determine the susceptibility of source waters and careful monitoring to ensure minimal contamination.

The new SDWA amendments also outline the importance of consumer information. Water suppliers must prepare consumer confidence reports which provides the public with collected data and detailed analyses done on the quality of their drinking water. These suppliers are required to mail an annual report about the system’s source water and the level of contaminants in the drinking water. In addition, consumers must be notified within 24 hours of any drinking water contaminant violation that is a direct threat to human health. It’s also thought that if the public is more aware and addressed on the issues and threats facing their drinking water, they will be vital in preventing and reducing these threats in the future.

On the issue of contaminants, the SDWA seeks to improve contaminant research, review, and selection. Instead of the EPA adding 25 contaminants every three years, they will now select contaminants based on scientific research and reviews and add five contaminants every five years. This allows more time to evaluate the contaminants ability to fill the three criteria that determines a regulated contaminant. To fulfill the criteria, the contaminant must negatively affect human health, occur in public water systems at a level of risk, and regulation must have the potential to reduce health risk. A cost-benefit analysis is also required for new contamination standards to ensure that the benefits of reducing the contaminant will be worth the cost in the long run.

Lastly, the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund was set up to aid states in creating and improving existing public water systems. As mentioned before, there is a greater emphasis on the states to create and implement contamination prevention programs. Part of the SRF allows states to set up these programs to better protect their source waters. The notion behind the fund is that these preventive programs are less costly than treating contaminated water, thus making them cost effective in the long run.

The amendments of the SDWA ensure sustainable, quality public drinking water and water sources for all.

Both the Clean Water Act and the Safe Water Drinking Act have been essential in protecting and improving our nations water, from the coasts and wetlands to our drinking water and groundwater.

*Information obtained from EPA website

Contact Shannyn at

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