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America's Water Risk: Water Stress and Climate Variability (Columbia Water Center White Paper)

The emerging awareness of the dependence of business on water has resulted in increasing awareness of the concept of "Water Risk" and the diverse ways in which water can pose threats to businesses in certain regions and sectors. Businesses seek to secure sustainable income. To do so, they need to maintain a competitive advantage and brand differentiation. They need secure and stable supply chains. Their exposure risks related to increasing scarcity of water can come in a variety of forms at various points in the supply chain. Given increasing water scarcity and the associated deterioration of the quantity and quality of water sources in many parts of the world, many "tools" have been developed to map water scarcity risk or water risk. Typically, these tools are based on estimates of the average water supply and demand in each unit of analysis. Often, they are associated with river basins, while business is associated with cities or counties. They provide a useful first look at the potential imbalance of supply and demand to businesses.

However, the analyses on which such tools are based understate the potential water risk due to climate variations. In most places, even if the resource is not overappropriated on average, persistent shortage induced by climate conditions can lead to stress. A clear understanding of shortages induced by droughts, in terms of the magnitude, duration and recurrence frequency will better inform the water businesses and water related sectors. To properly diagnose water risk, one needs to examine both existing demand and variations in renewable water supply at an appropriate spatial resolution and unit. A metric that can inform the potential severity of a shortage is the accumulated deficit between demand and supply at a location. Here, we provide ways to estimate this risk and map it for the USA at a county level. The measures of water risk are estimated using over sixty years of precipitation and the current water use pattern for each county. Unlike past work that considers estimates of groundwater recharge and river flow as measures of supply, we use precipitation as the renewable water supply endogenous to the area, and consider natural and human uses of this water. The reliance on imported river water or mined ground water is exposed in the process. This is important to establish in the face of spatial competition for existing water resources.

A Columbia Water Center, Earth Institute, Columbia University, and Veolia Water publication. February 2013.

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Date Of Record Release 2015-01-13 13:43:56
Description The emerging awareness of the dependence of business on water has resulted in increasing awareness of the concept of "Water Risk" and the diverse ways in which water can pose threats to businesses in certain regions and sectors. Businesses seek to secure sustainable income. To do so, they need to maintain a competitive advantage and brand differentiation. They need secure and stable supply chains. Their exposure risks related to increasing scarcity of water can come in a variety of forms at various points in the supply chain. Given increasing water scarcity and the associated deterioration of the quantity and quality of water sources in many parts of the world, many "tools" have been developed to map water scarcity risk or water risk. Typically, these tools are based on estimates of the average water supply and demand in each unit of analysis. Often, they are associated with river basins, while business is associated with cities or counties. They provide a useful first look at the potential imbalance of supply and demand to businesses.

However, the analyses on which such tools are based understate the potential water risk due to climate variations. In most places, even if the resource is not overappropriated on average, persistent shortage induced by climate conditions can lead to stress. A clear understanding of shortages induced by droughts, in terms of the magnitude, duration and recurrence frequency will better inform the water businesses and water related sectors. To properly diagnose water risk, one needs to examine both existing demand and variations in renewable water supply at an appropriate spatial resolution and unit. A metric that can inform the potential severity of a shortage is the accumulated deficit between demand and supply at a location. Here, we provide ways to estimate this risk and map it for the USA at a county level. The measures of water risk are estimated using over sixty years of precipitation and the current water use pattern for each county. Unlike past work that considers estimates of groundwater recharge and river flow as measures of supply, we use precipitation as the renewable water supply endogenous to the area, and consider natural and human uses of this water. The reliance on imported river water or mined ground water is exposed in the process. This is important to establish in the face of spatial competition for existing water resources.

A Columbia Water Center, Earth Institute, Columbia University, and Veolia Water publication. February 2013.
Classification
Resource Type
Format
Subject
Keyword Water Risk, Water Stress, Climate Variability, Water Scarcity, Business
Date Of Record Creation 2015-01-13 13:27:25
Education Level
Date Last Modified 2015-01-13 13:47:38
Language English
Date Record Checked: 2015-01-13 13:27:25 (W3C-DTF)

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