Sustainability of global water use: past reconstruction and future projections

Overuse of surface water and an increasing reliance on nonrenewable groundwater resources have been reported over various regions of the world, casting significant doubt on the sustainable water supply and food production met by irrigation. To assess the limitations of global water resources, numerous indicators have been developed, but they rarely consider nonrenewable water use. In addition, surface water over-abstraction is rarely assessed in the context of human and environmental water needs. Yoshihide Wada and Marc Bierkens performed a transient assessment of global water use over the historical period 1960–2010 as well as the future projections of 2011–2099, using a newly developed indicator: the blue water sustainability index (BlWSI).

The BlWSI incorporates both nonrenewable groundwater use and nonsustainable water use that compromises environmental flow requirements. Our results reveal an increasing trend of water consumed from nonsustainable surface water and groundwater resources over the historical period (~30%), and this increase is projected to continue further towards the end of this century (~40%). The global amount of nonsustainable water consumption has been increasing especially since the late 1990s, despite a wetter climate and increasing water availability during this period. The BlWSI is the first tool suitable for consistently evaluating the renewability and degradation of surface water and groundwater resources as a result of human water over-abstraction.


acrobat icon Sustainability of global water use: past reconstruction and future projections


» Environmental Research Letters


In December 2014 our friend Richard Taylor, UCL, wrote a summary in the News & Views section of Nature, from a groundwater perspective:

acrobat icon When wells run dry