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Science & Technology

The Future Of Water Security | Serving Up Science

Roger McLassus
Creative Commons

Water is critically important to agriculture as well as many aspects of our lives. On this week's segment Sheril and Karel speak with Dr. Jay Famiglietti, director of the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada about the future of water.


How much of Earth's water is fresh water and why is that so important?

Famiglietti: It's important because that's the that's the stuff that that helps us survive and flourish. And it turns out to be just a very small fraction of all the water that covers the earth. But ninety seven percent is ocean water, saline water, and only three percent is freshwater. Of that three percent, most of that is frozen. About a third of that is groundwater. And only about one percent of this two and a half to three percent of freshwater is the surface water that we see in rivers and lakes. So it's a tiny amount of water, and so of course it's precious.

What have you observed when it comes to water availability in your work with satellites?

Famiglietti: Well, that picture that comes out of our satellite work is is pretty compelling. If you think about a map of the globe, imagine a map in which the high latitudes all across North America and Eurasia and the low latitudes, the global tropics are getting wetter. And in between the already semi arid and arid regions of the world are getting drier. So we are seeing the wet areas of the world get wetter and the dry areas of the world get drier. On top of that we have these almost hotspots for water, I call it water insecurity places where there's massive amounts of groundwater depletion that's happening in over half of the world's major aquafers. Places where glaciers are melting in Alaska, Patagonia, and, of course, all around the Himalayas. And then, of course, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are melting away at a rapid clip. And you know, in the news right now, because of the excessive heat melting quite rapidly. So, you know, the bottom line is that water security, globally, I think is much more fragile than people realize.

Is there a reason you're still hopeful about the future of water?

Famiglietti: There's a lot of reasons why I'm still hopeful. I think maybe the biggest one is that we are seeing this current generation of young people, college students and high school students and even middle school and grammar school students are really engaged in climate change and really engaged in the environment in ways that their parents or their grandparents were back in the 60s and the 70s. And so, you know, we took a lot of time off from the sort of grassroots environmental movement, and I think it's great to see that return. The other thing, and this comes from my experience in California, it's very rewarding to see in a state like California, when everyone focuses on a single problem, in this case, groundwater depletion in California. And everyone works on it together, positive things can come out of it. And I'm really referring to the passage of the sustainable ground water management act in California in 2014, which was really a giant collaboration across academics, government, stakeholders, NGOs. And it had a really positive outcome and we can reproduce that and different hotspots for water insecurity around the world we'll be in much better shape.

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