We can’t let water become a competitive resource

Categories: AEC Sustainability in AEC Infrastructure Sustainability Perspectives
Tags: water
  • Since 1993, the UN has designated March 22 as World Water Day to raise awareness about crucial issues in water management.
  • For 2024, the theme is Water for Peace, and the goal is to spotlight the lack of agreements between nations that share waterways on their boundaries.
  • Regulations are encouraging or requiring sustainable water management approaches, shifting the way water professionals work towards greener, more efficient digital processes.

The International Boundary and Water Commission was created by the US and Mexico to govern the use of water on the Colorado River, including and how much water must be delivered from the Colorado river system to Mexico on an annual basis.

While the world may not run out of water, there is a real danger that water could become a resource that countries fight over. But it doesn’t have to end up that way. Nations have the power to create collective agreements that respect the world’s shared water resources. Some countries are already leading the way, but there is still much work to do.

Transboundary cooperation agreements

You may not hear a lot about transboundary water management, but cross-border cooperation on shared bodies of water will become increasingly essential to solve the water challenges of the future.

We all know that water doesn’t follow political boundaries. If one country builds a new dam, it can dramatically reduce a neighboring country’s downstream flow. If a coastal country depletes an aquifer that is shared by neighboring countries, saltwater intrusion can bring with it arsenic, fluoride, and other toxic substances, along with corrosion of underground infrastructure. When pathogens or PFAS, long lasting chemicals that break down very slowly over time, are introduced into a body of water in one country, they will inevitably spread to neighboring countries.

Only 24 out of 153 countries that share waterways with neighboring countries have cooperation agreements about their shared water resources. Source: UNESCO

Transboundary waters account for 60% of the world’s freshwater flows, which 3 billion people depend on. But only 24 out of 153 countries that share rivers, lakes, and aquifers with neighboring nations have cooperation agreements about their shared water resources. These kinds of agreements will become increasingly important in the future to prevent overexploitation and pollution of lakes, rivers, and aquifers.

World Water Day is an opportunity to raise awareness of transboundary water cooperation and water resource management more broadly.

You can take part in the World Water Day 2024 campaign on ‘Water for Peace’ with these resources from the United Nations.

Technology can drive cooperation

Every year we see how extreme weather is expressed through water–too much in some places, not enough in others, and all places increasingly subject to the stresses of water insecurity. We also know that the consequences of extreme weather will be disproportionately felt by the poorest and most vulnerable.

At Autodesk, we leverage partnerships and support policies that contribute to water security. Our customers tell us that they want to be at the forefront of sustainability, and that is shaping the way we build our software. For example, we’re incorporating new tools driven by machine learning and AI that can help our customers plan and build more sustainably and efficiently.

See how our customers are designing and making a better world in Autodesk’s Impact Report.

To make a difference, data-driven and sustainable water management practices must be at the core of adaptation strategies. Technology, and data collection in particular, will play a key role in this adaptation.

No matter the size of the water problem, big or small, when software is used to collect data, analyze it, and share it with others, teams can better understand what needs to be done to cooperatively solve problems. Without the right data, and policies around sharing it, it will be hard to convince governments to act.

Addressing gaps in the data will be essential, but this work must happen in tandem with sustainable development practices. More and more regulations are encouraging or requiring sustainable approaches in the water industry, and we’re encouraged to see water professionals shifting towards greener, more efficient digital processes.