World Water Day calls attention to water scarcity and ways to conserve fresh water

One drip of water per second can waste more than 8 gallons in a day.

One drip of water per second can waste more than 8 gallons in a day.

BLACKSBURG, Va., March 14, 2008 – World Water Day is celebrated globally on March 22 in an effort to raise awareness about the availability of clean, fresh water, a natural resource that many take for granted.

One-in-five people in the world do not have access to safe drinking water, and two-in-five lack access to improved sanitation services. By 2025, close to two billion people will be living in regions with severe water scarcity, according to a United Nations report.

Much of the southeastern United States was faced with unprecedented drought conditions in 2007, which caused local and regional conflicts over water supplies.

“Many Virginians are still dealing with the consequences of the 2007 drought when all of us realized how precious of a resource water is,” said Stephen H. Schoenholtz, director of the Virginia Water Resources Research Center based in Blacksburg, Va.

Schoenholtz also noted that Virginia, like most of the states, is largely depended on surface waters such as rivers and lakes, which account for about 79 percent of the total freshwater withdrawals in the country. “Ultimately, the tap water that we take for granted is closely related to how much rain we get each year,” said Schoenholtz.

But even if rain is scarce, it still can be a valuable resource if adequate water plans are developed in an effort to promote wise management.

For instance, a multi-college partnership at Virginia Tech led by the center proposes a unique approach to managing water and energy resources, called the Decentralized Energy and Water Systems. One of the group’s research themes is to promote rainwater harvesting as an alternative to using water from the public system for various uses.

Rain harvesting systems are already used in Virginia. The Roanoke County correctional facility collects 4.6 million gallons of water a year using its 225,000 square-foot rooftop. The collected water is used for laundry washing, therefore replacing water consumption from the public supply.

Decentralized Energy and Water Systems team members at Virginia Tech include professors Tamim Younos, project leader and associate director at the center and research professor of water resources in the Department of Geography; Darrell Bosch, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics; Richard Hirsch, Consortium on Energy Restructuring; Vinod Lohani Department of Engineering Education; and Madeline Schreiber, Department of Geosciences.

World Water Day is an initiative of the United Nations dating from 1992. In 2007, 65 American cities and 27 countries hosted World Water Day events.