In 2008, for the first time in human history, more people lived in urban areas than in rural locations. That’s according to a report released by the UN two years ago (The 2007 Revision of the World Urbanization Prospects), which predicted that by the end of the year, more than half of the world’s 6.8 billion people would call the big city their home. The report also predicted that a majority of this urban growth would be concentrated in Asia and Africa, two areas that are mostly rural, but still account for most of the world’s urban population, thanks in no small part to the megacities that sit within their borders, including Tokyo—the world’s largest city with a population of just over 12 million residents comprising 10% of Japan’s total citizenry.
When it comes to water resource management, the increasing urbanization of the world’s population means that the current stressors on our current water supplies will continue to increase as demand rises and the distance between cities and their sources continues to grow. One need only look at southern California for a clear example of the impact of urban demand on rural supply—with pipelines and canals threaded through hills and valleys delivering water from the Colorado River and the Sacramento River Delta to faucets, toilets, and sprinklers throughout Los Angeles and the surrounding area. And growing urban populations are not the only problem. Increasingly, we are seeing cities compete for water resources, like Atlanta’s battle for Lake Lanier, while agricultural interests continue to take big bites out of our potable water supply. Adding another layer of complication is the possible impact of climate change on current water supplies—including infrastructure unable to cope with increasingly erratic weather patterns and prolonged droughts in areas that traditionally served as reliable water suppliers for surrounding regions.
So what do you think? We all know that as long as demand continues to increase, we are all dependent upon smart water resource management, but what exactly does that entail? Is it enough to monitor, regulate, and enforce water use? And do we currently have access to the funding and technology that would allow us to efficiently manage supply and demand? And is the focus on management of resources enough, or should we also be discussing demand reduction and including water resource management in all present and future urban planning?