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See Inside August 2008

Facing the Freshwater Crisis

As demand for freshwater soars, planetary supplies are becoming unpredictable. Existing technologies could avert a global water crisis, but they must be implemented soon

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A friend of mine lives in a middle-class neighborhood of New Delhi, one of the richest cities in India. Although the area gets a fair amount of rain every year, he wakes in the morning to the blare of a megaphone announcing that freshwater will be available only for the next hour. He rushes to fill the bathtub and other receptacles to last the day. New Delhi’s endemic shortfalls occur largely because water managers decided some years back to divert large amounts from upstream rivers and reservoirs to irrigate crops.

My son, who lives in arid Phoenix, arises to the low, schussing sounds of sprinklers watering verdant suburban lawns and golf courses. Although Phoenix sits amid the Sonoran Desert, he enjoys a virtually unlimited water supply. Politicians there have allowed irrigation water to be shifted away from farming operations to cities and suburbs, while permitting recycled wastewater to be employed for landscaping and other nonpotable applications.

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