Whatever the conclusion of COP21, adapting to climate change will only become more urgent, as its impacts become harsher. These impacts are, and will be, felt primarily through water: rising sea-levels, dwindling snowpack, droughts, and floods.
As countries all over the world grapple with these challenges, there’s been a lot of talk about innovative water-saving approaches, such as desalination, recycling, novel irrigation systems for farmers, and conservation tools for homes. But there’s another variable in the equation when its comes to adapting water use to climate change, and that’s storage—how we hold onto water when it’s available, so that supplies meet demand in unsteady times.
More big dams?
Building more dams and reservoirs is probably the first solution that comes to mind. Especially in the last century, they’ve been the primary way that the U.S.—and many other countries like China, India, and South Africa—have collected water. By providing a steady stream of water and electricity to cities and farmers, dams and reservoirs have buttressed economic and population growth all over the world.
But that’s once they’re already built. Penning up rivers for human gain comes at tremendous costs. Dams interfere with the natural direction of waterbodies and often devastate the wildlife dependent on those flow. And especially when compared to their enormous financial burden, the capacity of dams to supply humans with water is often pretty limited.