Water scarcity is not a new problem, and architects and builders should be paying attention as it requires action and provides an opportunity for global leadership. In the U.S., research shows that water supplies keep dwindling as consumer demand continues to rise, threatening watersheds and major metropolises across the country. Towns are already running out of water in Texas, and even if water supplies were adequate to address demand on a national level, access to said water is at risk of failure without major, costly repairs in the next decade. Given current trends, those building owners and operators who are unwilling to pay more for water are in for sticker shock going forward.
And now, the existing water problems are only forecast to grow: A study published this week by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research forecasts that the effects of global warming (such as changes in rainfall and evaporation due to climate change) will put another 40 percent of the global population at risk for "absolute water scarcity." One area specifically named at risk: The southern U.S.
This is where you should be paying attention. As a whole, this is a big deal, and U.S. News explains why here. But here's why it should matter to building professionals: According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Energy, building water consumption accounts for 10 percent of the country's total water use, guzzling 39.6 billion gallons per day. Given that the most recent stats available are from 2005, I'd venture to say these numbers may be higher today. We can—and must—change the way we design, construct, and operate buildings so that they use less water.
Now here’s the opportunity at hand: Reducing water use, of course, has been a central component of green building strategies for years, and the Potsdam study's conclusions only reinforce the vital importance of these measures. What the study's data shows is a tremendous need for leadership for green building professionals to create and demonstrate water-saving design and operational strategies for buildings across the globe. In 2011, green building consultant Jerry Yudelson predicted that in the future, you could "expect building codes and local regulations to become more focused on water conservation ... with requirements for drip-irrigation systems, low-flow fixtures, low-water-use appliances, and dedicated plumbing for greywater." The upside is that a growing number of green builders and architects may already consider these to be no-brainer inclusions on every project. And if you're not one of these folks, here's a slew of basic strategies to get you started on the residential side and a look at some of the more forward-thinking elements in development in both commercial and residential building. Rather than wallow in the dire predictions, consider studies like the Potsdam one to be a call to action. How will you respond?