LMI Researches Future Water Vulnerabilities

August 31, 2017

LMI Staff

One billion people today lack adequate water—five to six gallons a day—and another 2.6 billion don’t have access to clean water. Worldwide population growth and climate change further disrupts supply, worsening the problem. To better understand this critical issue, the LMI Research Institute funded a yearlong project, which included reviewing state water plans and water vulnerability documents, assisting in the  formation of water-governing bodies, and assessing military installation water consumption.

Studying the water supply was a natural fit for LMI’s logistics roots, said LMI Senior Consultant Larry Kobayashi. “Water is all about distribution, so logistics is the key to the problem. If you can get water to one place or away from another place, you’ve solved the problem. There’s plenty of water, but it’s in the wrong place,” he noted.

The problem is not just in the developing world, with Kobayashi noting that the United States will be hit hard, especially in Texas and Oklahoma, which grows about 40 percent of the nation’s winter wheat. A lack of water could have a critical impact on the food supply.

Thinking Long-Term

A long-term outlook—10 or 20 years—is one of the challenges to solving the water supply problem. LMI’s research hopes to draw attention to the issue.

For this project, the LMI Research Institute funded three water-related projects. Two of these efforts are aimed at creating governing bodies—like the Tennessee Valley Authority—that will plan, price, prioritize, and monitor the area’s water supply. One is a regional effort in the southwestern United States, and the other is a statewide effort. LMI is helping the groups establish appropriate governance structures, understand stakeholders involved, and identify issues to address, such as setting appropriate prices and prioritizing future distribution.  

Understanding Indirect Consumption

For its third water-related research project, LMI’s Frank Reilly is leading a survey of  both direct and indirect water use for a military base that also houses a hospital, baselining  water consumption at the base. It includes not only the water directly used, but also the water needed to produce all of the consumables on the base, such as petroleum, food, bandages, medicine, and electricity.

The research brought several challenges to light, including water pricing mechanisms, which vary by region, and waste of water stemming from aging infrastructure.

“Most cities are losing about 30 percent of their water from leaking infrastructure,” Kobayashi reported. Some forward looking cities such as El Paso have set their sights on zero net loss from infrastructure according to Reilly.

As a result of this LRI-funded work, Reilly is leading up a project for the City of San Antonio dealing with aquifer protection.

In addition to its research, LMI also participates in national water supply conferences and is exploring relationships with U.S. and international nongovernmental organizations related to water policy.

Water Recommendations

LMI’s research team had several recommendations for agencies assessing their water needs. These include the following:

  • Begin today—waiting worsens the problem
  • Promote conservation—achieve quick wins by eliminating waste
  • Develop efficiencies—extend the existing supply
  • Set priorities—identify who gets water when supply is scarce
  • Examine pricing—assess whether subsidies help or hurt
  • Address aging infrastructure—stop leaks