Cape Town, South Africa, is bracing for Day Zero. This isn’t some zombie apocalypse or fast-approaching war, but it represents an acute catastrophe: The city of almost 4 million people will have their water taps shut off, which is currently projected to happen on July 15. Globally, 1.2 billion people live in water scarce areas. Cape Town’s crisis was detectable as early as the 1990s. The city’s shortage was avoidable and so is Texas’ coming water crisis.
Texas officials expect massive population growth in the coming decades, with 1.7 million new residents predicted through 2020. As our population grows, so do our water woes. Experts predict water shortages could begin as early as 2020 for the Lone Star State, a time on the not-so-distant horizon. If no one takes action, we could have a statewide water shortage of 2.9 trillion gallons by 2070. Humans are rapidly depleting one-third of the world’s groundwater resources. We have to take action as our water supplies continue to dwindle, water demand increases and temperatures internationally soar to new levels.
To tackle a problem this large, we need to redefine the way we think about water. Small scale change will fail to solve this problem.
Texas needs a different approach and that approach is One Water. One Water is a way of thinking about how we use and manage water resources in a way that treats drinking water, storm runoff, wastewater, groundwater and surface water the same. It combines this way of thinking with urban development, land use, transport, energy, waste, economic development, agriculture and health. It’s the view that all water has value.
Practically, Texas could invest in green infrastructure that mimics the natural water cycle and implement closed-loop water systems that prioritize recycling and restoration of usable wastewater. We could create comprehensive water conservation and recycling programs at the local and state levels.
No longer would individual local or state entities make decisions independently. City parks departments would collaborate with waste management services— nearby cities would co-manage regional water resources. Under this system, local and state entities would be codependent, encouraging cooperative decision-making. This also means facilitating water efficiency and reuse at Texas industrial plants, carefully planning and reforming agricultural practices in rural areas, and on-site treatment of water for use in toilets and landscaping at large residential buildings.
Water professionals said One Water promoted greater stability and resilience, more opportunities to optimize regional infrastructure, sustainable development and increased collaboration between government entities. Nor is this a hypothetical proposal — One Water has been adopted successfully by cities such as Rotterdam, Singapore, Tucson and Los Angeles. This mindset works.
Cape Town should be a grave warning to the world. Water scarcity doesn’t strike without notice. It’s a slow-moving disaster that creeps through the international community. We have the time to prepare for it, and we have the system to deal with it. So let’s start fixing it.
Verses is a Plan II and environmental engineering freshman from San Antonio.