Utilizing Water Management to Overcome Extreme Weather

Global climate change is worsening the occurrence of extreme weather events, which negatively impact water supply and quality. As a result, effective water management is an important element in mitigating and adapting to a changing world.

Image Credit: i am adventure/Shutterstock.com

Image Credit: i am adventure/Shutterstock.com

However, clean water remains variable in many regions worldwide, and few countries are prepared for the more frequent, intense, and longer-lasting extreme weather events that may disrupt water supplies.

Importance of Water Management

Access to safe drinking water and sanitation are recognized as a human right worldwide. Water is not only used for drinking and sanitation but is also used extensively in the industrial production of clothes and energy. Water management, which refers to maintaining suitable water quantity and quality, plays a critical role in many aspects of modern society.

In recent years, the worsening of extreme weather events has demonstrated how susceptible water supply can be during and following incidents such as heatwaves, droughts, and storms.

The impacts are particularly noticeable among marginalized communities and populations, which lack appropriate facilities to store or transport sufficient clean water in cases of emergency. Due to the repercussions on public health, water management has become a focal point for national and international policies.

A review of existing literature considering the impacts of climatic events on water supply by Wang et al. (2022) discussed how weather events easily jeopardize stable drinking water supplies. The review discussed several incidents of ineffective water management during climatic events.

For instance, heavy rainfall in July 2021 in Zhengzhou City, China, interrupted six of the nine total water treatment plants, and the water supply to nearly 2,000 residential areas covering 1,114 km2 in the city was shut down.

Authors of the review found that centralized water treatments, which are most common worldwide, are ineffective at addressing the challenges of extreme weather events, as they cannot provide sufficient quantity and quality of water in the case of emergency.

Instead of centralized systems, the review emphasizes the need for technological innovation in decentralized, especially point-of-use water treatment. Improving such measures may avoid disastrous incidents during climatic events that are becoming increasingly frequent.

Limitations and Solutions to Ineffective Water Management

The effect of climatic events on water availability and potential changes to limit the negative outcomes was reviewed by Khan et al. (2015). The authors presented how climatic events affect water catchments, storage reservoirs, the performance of water treatment processes, and the integrity of distribution systems, which all impact the water quality and quantity for surrounding communities.

The authors of the review then presented the practical opportunities for improved guidance for water managers based on existing policies. For instance, the World Health Organization (WHO) Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality describe safe drinking water management during emergencies and disasters. Although the guidelines are important to outline internationally recognized management policies, the WHO guidelines are based upon expected and experienced changes in environmental conditions, not short-term, abrupt events.

The limitation of WHO guidelines is particularly clear in the case of an outbreak in Walkerton, Canada, in 2000. The water supply was contaminated with E. coli and Campylobacter jejuni bacteria, which killed seven people, and hundreds fell ill. The contamination itself was not the most impactful, but the five-day rainfall accumulation was the heaviest rain in that region for a century.

Such cases often guide regional, national, and international policies. However, as they are mostly reactive and not proactive based upon future predictions of human activities or climate change, guidelines often fail to meet the severity of unprecedented climate events. As a result, authors advocate for a shift towards preparing for worst-case predicted scenarios by looking ahead rather than focusing on just past experiences to guide policies.

The same authors further discussed the lessons learned from previous climatic events in a 2016 paper. After detailing some key examples of climate events, the authors present how the need to build resilient water management systems should be holistic from a societal perspective and include inter-agency relationships to identify effective strategies. Additionally, the authors emphasize that strategies should focus on plans during the climatic events and short-term and long-term post-event.

The Future of Effective Water Management

Water management needs to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of global climate change. Worsened heatwaves, storm events, and their associated repercussions, including floods or droughts, will considerably burden water quality and quantity. Beyond environmental change, human activities across industries, as well as continued population growth also pose a challenge to water management effectiveness.

To prepare for such challenges and potential impacts, researchers are finding solutions to improve the effectiveness of water management systems that can then inform policymakers.

From decentralized water storage systems mentioned previously to anticipating heightened water needs in specific areas or during specific periods, the logistical as well as spatiotemporal capacity to manage water will directly shape the effectiveness of management strategies. In turn, the unpredictability of climate events may be lessened thanks to the flexibility of management frameworks.

Further solutions to effective water management have also been developed, including the use of big data systems and machine learning. This was discussed by Sun et al. (2019), who examined the benefits of machine learning for water management based on data-driven approaches.

The study's authors highlighted the ability to use Big Data obtained from high-resolution remote sensing techniques, smart information, communication technologies, and social media to inform better water management policies.

Collected data can be used for impact assessments, environmental monitoring, and energy management, which can inform the best strategies in case of disasters. Moreover, the information can then be used to implement better strategies in the future, thus improving the hindcast forecasting that policies already follow. Using modern technologies as well as more holistic, inter-organizational policies will be critical in a world facing unpredictable environmental and societal changes.

Sources

  • Khan, S. J., Deere, D., Kookana, R. S., Humpage, A. R., Jenkins, M., & Cunliffe, D. (2015). Extreme weather events: Should drinking water quality management systems adapt to changing risk profiles? Water Research, 85, 124–136. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.watres.2015.08.018

  • Khan, S. J., Deere, D., Kookana, R. S., Humpage, A. R., Jenkins, M., Cunliffe, D., Fitzgerald, S. K., & Stanford, B. D. (2017). Lessons and guidance for the management of safe drinking water during extreme weather events. Environmental Science, 3(2), 262–277. https://doi.org/10.1039/c6ew00165c
  • Sun, A. Y., & Scanlon, B. R. (2019). How can Big Data and machine learning benefit environment and water management: a survey of methods, applications, and future directions. Environmental Research Letters, 14(7), 073001. https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab1b7d
  • Wang, D., Chen, Y., Jarin, M., & Xie, X. (2022). Increasingly frequent extreme weather events urge the development of point-of-use water treatment systems. Clean Water, 5(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41545-022-00182-1

 

Further Reading

Last Updated: Sep 5, 2023

James Ducker

Written by

James Ducker

James completed his bachelor in Science studying Zoology at the University of Manchester, with his undergraduate work culminating in the study of the physiological impacts of ocean warming and hypoxia on catsharks. He then pursued a Masters in Research (MRes) in Marine Biology at the University of Plymouth focusing on the urbanization of coastlines and its consequences for biodiversity.  

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