In Flanders, for example, 2020 marks the driest start of the hydrological summer in 100 years. With a good long-term plan, countries can avoid some of the worse problems that droughts can bring.
Changes in the weather cycle
Droughts have always affected certain parts of the globe. However, due to the effects of climate change, they are becoming more frequent and more widespread. Cities to have experienced unprecedented droughts recently include San Francisco, Cape Town, Chennai and even Flanders.
The effects of droughts are not just a depletion of water supplies which can cause severe scarcity and run the risk of a “day zero”. Droughts also typically affect rainfall patterns, with precipitation becoming concentrated in intense short bursts which increases the danger of flooding. The economic costs of droughts can be extremely high, with the EU putting drought-related costs at EUR 100 billion over the past 30 years.
Effective drought planning needs to be two-pronged. It needs to ensure that there will be adequate water reserves to cope during the drought period to avoid scarcity and a “day zero” scenario. It also needs to accommodate the changing rainfall patterns, with adequate buffers and infiltration systems in place to avoid flooding while ensuring that ground water reservoirs are still properly replenished.
Building a long-term drought-proof water strategy
A long-term water strategy is needed to mitigate water shortages and control water flows in areas at risk of droughts. Ideally, this should be done at city level and every local authority should have one. However, smaller communities, neighbourhoods and individual organizations can have their own strategy in place as well. The strategy should be multidisciplinary to ensure that it is well researched, effectively delivered and properly communicated. Make sure that you either hire the necessary experts or outsource water management to a reliable third party.
Key elements of a drought-proof water strategy can include:
- proper analysis of the likelihood of droughts in the target city/area over a long-term (e.g. 15-20 year) period. What does the current research say? How does this impact local water supply and flooding risk? This analysis should underpin the strategy.
- investing in water recycling technologies to maximise water reserves. These include rainwater harvesting, wastewater reuse systems and desalination technologies. This will greatly reduce the reliance on groundwater and freshwater supplies that are affected during droughts.
- Investing in buffering and infiltration systems at city level, which can help avoid flooding as well as assisting with water recycling. This involves reducing the amount of concrete and reliance on stormwater run-off into sewer systems and moving towards a “sponge city” model built around more green spaces, water ponds, green roofs and porous streets and buildings that can retain rainwater and allow it to slowly filtrate back into the water cycle. China is currently piloting the “sponge city” model in 16 urban districts.
- Effective monitoring and auditing to track usage levels and identify potential water-saving measures.
- A communications strategy to convey success stories, share best practice and promote ideas around understanding the value of water as we approach an age where it could potentially become a scarce resource.
As Benjamin Franklin once said: “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”.
When it comes to water supplies, the consequences of failure are too great. This is why preparation is all the more important. Water Experts can help you plan for a more sustainable water future. We offer a range of support, advice and consultation services as well as the latest in water conservation products and technologies.