People are running out of water all over the world.

This is little Redfish Lake in the Sawtooth Mountains if Idaho. Very few places have water resources like this left. And even in the American West water is rapidly running out. Even the water in the mighty Colorado River is always less than the legal allocations of that water. This is because that water was hugely over-allocated many years ago, in one of the wettest years on record for the American West.

One of the most serious problems the world is now facing is that in many cities, mostly in the warmer zones, people are running out of water. Really running out of water, not just kind of low on water. Right now 25% of all humans are desperately short of even drinking water. Seventeen countries all around the world are scrambling to find enough water for their citizens. Reservoirs and lakes and rivers are running dry. Wells are running dry Rivers are running dry. Glaciers that once provided an abundance of clean water are now gone.

Recently there was an article in the New York Times about the Indian city of Chennai where finding even the few gallons of water needed to keep oneself alive is now an epic struggle for hundreds of thousands.

This is what it is like to get just a few gallons of water a day in Chennai. Photo from NYT
And this is the only way for most people to get that water home. Photo from NYT

Chennai is a city of almost five million people in south-eastern India. For years they have been pumping groundwater from the reservoir under their region. But now that groundwater is pretty much gone and the monsoon this year was very weak . And the cities four water reservoirs are also bottoming out.

Global warming is not directly responsible for the drought in Chennai, but it does make everything worse. The city is hotter than before. Maximum temperatures on average have gone up over 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1950, In an already hot tropical city — often above 90 degrees Fahrenheit and very humid in the summer — that means water evaporates faster and the demand for it rises.

There is a lake in Chennai that was once deep and clean but now but there is not much left of it now and it doesn’t look like anything I would want to drink.

Puzhal Lake in Chennai is now just a pool of slimy green water on the old lake bed

And near the center of the city the groundwater is almost gone. Many, many wells are now drying up.

For many people all that is left is getting their water from the local water tanker. “The city says it dispatches more than 9,000 water tankers on any given day, more than ever before; private companies supply another 5,000 tankers.

And then there is the air conditioner. Everyone has one of those, and many people are reduced to collecting the few condensation drips from the cold air conditioner. This isn’t close to enough to live on but it’s something.

One of Chennai’s residents, Mr Baskar said, “he was sleeping less than usual. His mother said she hadn’t had time to check in with relatives on the other side of town. It used to be that you came to the big city to chase money, Mr. Baskar said. “Now we run after water.”

A woman carrying water collected from a hand pump. CreditRebecca Conway for The New York Times

There are several good books about the world water crisis:

When the Rivers Run Dry by Fred Pearce

The Dreamt Land: Chasing Water and Dust Across California by Mark Arax

The Death and the Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan

Where the Water Goes: Life andDeath along the Colorado by David Owen

Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner

The West without water by B. Llynn Ingram

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