Florida faces a billion gallon a day shortfall of water by 2030. If this is the future of a state that is surrounded by water and is home to highly productive aquifers, what lays ahead for the rest of the world?
And if a lack of water was a precursor to the Syrian War which displaced 11 million, innocent people. Who will be on the move next? Will it be us?
Back in the 19th century, efforts were made to reroute the flow of water through the Everglades. It took about 100 years to redirect nature's intended path–south over wild and petulant land– out to the east and west coasts, like gracefully extended arms. It was a brilliant idea at the time, which made Florida one of the most popular states in America for tourism. When a visitor experienced it, chances were they thought about packing their bags and moving here. This once-swampy land is now covered with eclectic restaurants, high-rise condos, luxury resorts, musical festivals, entertainment parks, sports centers and art scenes.
Unfortunately, though, ecosystems that once thrived here are now are endangered and the species and economies that rely on them are threatened. To make matters worse, encroaching seas are impacting our drinking water. The population of Florida, as with the rest of the world, continues to grow and strain its finite water supply. Only 1% of the world's water is drinkable, so we have to nurture what we have.
We are learning about our delicate relationship with water and improving its management in Florida. Farmers are now saving billions of gallons a year through technology such as drip irrigation. A much-disputed bridge was finally erected on the Tamiami Trail to restore interrupted water flows. Florida's largest utility company FPL is adding new solar centers that will save 10 million gallons of water a day. The state is re-using an impressive 40% of its wastewater. Florida is at the forefront of world-class, water modeling. Universities and local nonprofits have first-rate water education programs. And a new town on Florida's west coast, Babcock Ranch, is emerging from the ground designed to harvest, store, and clean water as well as educate residents about water's reuse.
Still, Florida's water supply won't be enough to sustain its projected population growth.
There are opportunities for innovation and collaboration across all sectors, and we don't have to be scientists to play a part. We can start small: Our condo associations, residences, and hotels can slowly replace water-thirsty lawns with drought-tolerant native plants, and we can find the serene beauty of this indigenous landscape with its often times unruly appearance which asks so little of us yet filters and cleans our water. Then we can design homes and businesses to harvest and reuse rainwater. We can continue on by thinking in terms of keeping our water clean before it reaches our drains. And we can begin to sort water for different uses–like we do with recyclables–thereby saving our cleanest water for drinking and our lower grade water for laundry and restrooms.
Most importantly though, we can seek out and connect through awareness expanding, water-related events and choose elected officials who protect the complex relationship between water and our security.
Without innovation, changes in behaviors, and participation, upcoming water scarcity– from a growing population around the world, not just in Florida– can set the stage for contention.
Will we have peace or conflict?
Photo inspiration: Smithsonian Mag article, Is a Lack of Water to Blame for the Conflict in Syria?, opening speech by the Commissioner of Agriculture (see page 5), the Florida Everglades, and World Water Day.
Further reading: Urban Water Security