Water is life. Water is the new oil. Water is power. A deep dive into the planet’s water situation reveals that in the coming decades, every country, including the United States, will have to determine how to treat water as an economic good, a human right, and a depleting resource. A look at three key areas—United States, the Middle East, and China—shows the range of challenges. By 2025, it is estimated that two-thirds of the world’s population will live in water-stressed areas, concentrated in the Middle East, North Africa, and western Asia, according to the World Resources Institute. Water scarcity, now recognized as a key contributor to the war in Syria, will almost certainly create more conflict and more water refugees. US–Canada - The United States is a “high stress” region according to the World Resources Institute, while Canada is a “low stress” region. In Canada, which has 20 percent of the world’s freshwater, it’s taboo for politicians to even hint at supporting bulk water exports. Gary Doer, former Canadian ambassador to the United States, predicted in 2014 that in the next couple of years, U.S.–Canada disputes over water will become so intense it will make the Keystone XL pipeline clashes “look silly.” Community Versus Corporation Bottling facility proposals have faced community resistance across North America. McCloud, California, is one example of a small town with a pristine water source coveted by Nestlé, one of the biggest bottling companies, which owns 56 brands. Pollution Water pollution is not confined to taps in Flint, Michigan—it is a nationwide problem. While lead-laden tap water has dominated headlines, a study by the Environmental Working Group of water samples collected over five years found over 300 pollutants—two-thirds of which are “unregulated chemicals”—in the nation’s tap water. Waterways are subjected to chemicals from agricultural runoff and leaks from failing septic systems, such that 40 percent of rivers and 46 percent of lakes in America are too polluted for fishing, swimming, or aquatic life. Irrigation Overuse Agriculture drinks up about 80 percent of water consumed in America and over 90 percent in Western states. Irrigation provided by the Ogallala Aquifer was down by 30 percent. In another 50 years, 69 percent will be gone, if current trends continue, say researchers at Kansas State University. Aging Infrastructure Deteriorating waterline infrastructure is a problem throughout the country. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, about 240,000 water main breaks occur every year nationwide. There are roughly 75,000 sanitary sewer overflows discharging billions of gallons of untreated wastewater, thereby contaminating recreational waters and causing roughly 5,500 cases of illness. Drinking water infrastructure will require more than $384 billion over 20 years to continue providing safe water to the public. Drought California is in its sixth year of severe drought. Alongside other conservation policies, in April 2015, Gov. Jerry Brown announced the state’s first ever mandatory restrictions on drinking water, looking for a reduction of 25 percent. Solutions Efficiency and Conservation California is one of the most drought-stricken states, but Los Angeles was named the second-most water-efficient city in the world (after Copenhagen), according to the 2016 Sustainable Cities Water Index by consultancy Arcadis. San Francisco also ranks highly. Both cities boast high levels of reuse. Conservation is also an important solution. California’s metering regulations and tools to pinpoint water loss have had a big impact on this. Recycling wastewater is often the most cost-effective solution to water stress. Cynthia Lane, American Water Works Association’s director of engineering and technical services, is a big proponent of recycling wastewater for drinking water, though she noted “the general public is not exactly enamored with treated wastewater.” Desalination faces more complications with permits, Lane said, because it takes place on the coast. The cost of disposing of the leftover brine can also be high, Schneider explained. Bulk imports are another solution, and each region has to determine for itself which is more beneficial in terms of economic, social, and environmental costs, Lane said. Water Is Politics In the Middle East, politics and water are closely wed. Typical trans-boundary agreements treat water as a divisible resource. But according to natural resource economist David B. Brooks, while agreements can help prevent conflict in the short term, they don’t guarantee sustainable and equitable water management in the long term. Jordan River Basin The Jordan River system—which flows through Lebanon, Syria, Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan—is the focus of one of several persistent interstate conflicts over water. It has been a source of tension between Israel and the Arab states for over 60 years. Water Poverty The ability of those in charge to meet basic water needs can be thwarted by conflict, which adds pressure to already strained situations. The World Health Organization puts the baseline minimum for daily water per person at about two gallons a day. Many describe falling below that as “water poverty.” For the rest of this comprehensive article, click here.