7 Solutions and Tools to Prevent Droughts and Minimize Their Risks
While human civilization has been able to flourish under some extremely harsh conditions, it tends to flounder if it lacks one simple but vital resource: water. Our complex civilization hinges upon our access to water—for drinking, industry, and agriculture.
Droughts are one of the biggest threats to civilization, both in the past and today, while their causes may seem simple on the surface – a lack of water – their underlying causes and solutions are complicated.
The American Red cross identifies four main types of doughts: meteorological, agricultural, hydrological, and socioeconomic. Meteorological droughts are caused by less than typical rainfall. Agricultural droughts are when moisture is present but not ample enough for agriculture and crops. Hydrological droughts are when surface and groundwater levels are below normal. Finally, socioeconomic droughts are when water supply doesn't meet demand, or when water is present but cannot reach all of the people who need it, often leading to only the wealthy being able to afford potable water.
These four different types of droughts require significantly different approaches to solve and prevent, all with one end goal — supplying enough water for society.
By examining the causes of these droughts, we can begin to find different solutions for preventing and managing drought risk.
Drought-preventative water fixtures
For domestic users, the major uses of water are for bathing and washing or both people and clothing. While agricultural and industrial water use vastly overshadows domestic use, there can still be a significant amount of waste that occurs within households and businesses, and particularly in the pipes supplying households and businesses.
Water-saving fixtures are commonly used in showerheads, toilets, and sinks for household use, but water use in public restrooms often ends up being overlooked. The Sloan Valve company along with Falcon Waterfree technologies actually came up with a solution to prevent urinals from utilizing waters in public restrooms. They created a replaceable Velocity cartridge which eliminates the need for water usage for urinals, all the while eliminating smells and carrying away all the liquid.
It may not be the most glamorous, but the road to a drought-free future starts with tackling even the most minute problems.
The real wastage in domestic supply; however, comes from leaks in the supply pipes. Many of these go unrepaired for extensive periods of time, causing a lot of wastage.
Smart watering systems
Keeping in trend with household and business water use, watering of landscaping and lawns has become common practice in most cities. This is largely done for aesthetic appeal, and it can be a big source of wasted water. Normally this isn't a concern for cities that aren't at risk of drought, but measures can still be taken to be mindful of the water that is used for these purposes.
Sprinkler systems today are far more advanced than their rudimentary ancestors, and some are now also connected to computers and monitoring systems. For example, the Droplet Smart sprinkler uses a connected app so that it only waters the plants that need water.
It functions as a simple hose attachment and channels the water through the nozzle only to the plants that need water. The company claims that using the device on all your landscaping watering can reduce your water usage by 90% each year, reducing a massive amount of water waste, although it is intended for domestic use rather than large-scale commercial use.
US drought monitor
The applications we've covered so far have been relatively small scale. But monitoring water trends on a macro scale is one of the most effective ways to prevent droughts actually. The United States uses something called the U.S. Drought Monitor, or USDM, which helps track and characterize droughts in different regions throughout the country.
The USDM is a combined effort between several different regulatory agencies and releases reports each week to track droughts and water usage.
The NOAA's National Climatic Data Center helps provide weekly and monthly data points to develop the reports for the USDM, mapping out temperature anomalies, rainfall changes, as well as Palmer Drought Index gauges in areas where drought is occurring to measure how intense the drought it.
The US drought monitor data is also digitized and available for public viewing online. The interactive map allows you to break the US down into different drought regions and examine things more closely. If you're interested in taking a look, the map is available here.
Water conservation agents
As mentioned before, agricultural production is a major consumer of water due to the sheer volume of water needed for agricultural use globally. What's more, water is often used inefficiently. One of the ways that this is managed is by adding additives to agricultural soil to ensure proper water uptake, retention, and aeration for plant growth.
One product, known as H20Excel, is a biodegradable mixture of natural ingredients like plant extracts and other nutrient enhancing chemicals.
By adding the chemical mixture to the soil, it allows the water to retain water for longer, while also reducing the capillary pressure in the soil. Doing so can allow for better aeration in the ground, theoretically increasing the nutrient uptake of the plants. By adding this mixture, the soil could become better suited for watering. And ultimately, less water would be needed to ensure a desirable crop yield for a given area. During a study of growth in an Alfalfa field in Illinois, H2OExcel's soil experts had this to say:
"We harvested a much higher quality crop and I point specifically to the effects of being able to better manage the increased rains from mid-summer 2015. I noticed that the disease pressure was moderately reduced, while the inputs were not changed, with the exception of adding H2OExcel to the program. We were impressed with the positive results H2OExcel had on the alfalfa’s overall forage quality improvements. And because H2OExcel is all-natural, producers can feel safe about feeding alfalfa or any other forage treated with H2OExcel to their animals.”
Drip irrigation systems are another commonly-used means for using agricultural water more efficiently. These slowly feed water directly to the base of the plant, reducing water loss through evaporation, reducing the total amount of water needed.
Additives, drip irrigation, and other water management tools can have a huge impact on a region's drought resistance. When the water demand in a given area decreases, the ability to prevent and mitigate drought in that region often becomes easier.
A growing number of drought prevention efforts are directing their energies into furthering the capabilities of desalination technologies, primarily to lower the cost. The world has no shortage of water, but it does have a shortage of clean drinking water. Making desalination more cost-effective could help alleviate water shortages in some areas.
Porous concrete and other surfacing materials
As civilizations grow and expand, so does our usage of asphalt and concrete to cover our cities. While these materials are useful for roadways and buildings, they are also highly impermeable, reducing the ability of rainfall to properly refill underground aquifers.
Normally, rainfall is managed through storm drains that direct the flow to major rivers, but this can cause problems in itself. These rivers can divert the water away from sources that feed into local underground aquifers. This can lead to a hydrological drought down the line.
One of the solutions to this is using ultra porous concrete and other surfacing materials that are strong enough for cars, trucks, and pedestrian traffic, while also allowing water to simply pass right through. When used for roads and parking lots, this allows the water to seep into the ground below while also removing it from the driving surface, all the while providing a hard strong road for us to use.
Porous concretes and paving materials are growing in popularity, and they're one potential tool to help prevent droughts down the line.
Donations to charity
Not everyone has the capability to reduce large amounts of water use, largely because most of us don't use all that much water to begin with. Agricultural and industrial uses are the main culprits when it comes to water overuse, but that doesn't mean there's nothing everyone else can do to prevent droughts. Socioeconomic droughts are one of the easiest to prevent through charitable donations, as these droughts hinge on organizing water systems, and on the financial capability for constructing more efficient water delivery systems.
By donating to various different charities, individuals can help develop more efficient water infrastructure systems to provide water to underserved populations, reducing the potential for serious humanitarian issues in times of drought.
These charities all work to provide better drought prevention technologies in the areas that need it. For the average citizen, this can be one of the best ways to prevent droughts globally.