The United Nations estimates that by 2030 almost half of the world's population will live in areas of “high water stress.” Human population growth and consumption are the leading drains on our water supplies. Demand for hydropower, biofuels, and agriculture also play a role. Along with changes in temperatures and weather, we can prepare for shrinking water supplies worldwide.

Photograph by Getty Images

The United Nations estimates that by 2030 almost half of the world's population will live in areas of “high water stress.” Human population growth and consumption are the leading drains on our water supplies. Demand for hydropower, biofuels, and agriculture also play a role. Along with changes in temperatures and weather, we can prepare for shrinking water supplies worldwide.

Photograph by Getty Images

Water Supplies Shrink Around the World

Fresh Water
Fresh Water

The United Nations estimates that by 2030 almost half of the world's population will live in areas of “high water stress.” Human population growth and consumption are the leading drains on our water supplies. Demand for hydropower, biofuels, and agriculture also play a role. Along with changes in temperatures and weather, we can prepare for shrinking water supplies worldwide.

Photograph by Getty Images
Colorado River
Colorado River

Some 20 million people rely on the Colorado River for household water, farming, and other industries, but by 2060 the river will fall short of demand by 3.2 million acre-feet of water, according to a study by the Federal Bureau of Reclamation that examines the effects on California, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming.

The Horseshoe Bend, a horseshoe-shaped meander of the Colorado River, is seen near the town of Page, Ariz. It is five miles downstream from the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell.

Photograph by Wolfgang Thieme/DPA/Zuma Press
Lake Mead, Nevada and Arizona
Lake Mead, Nevada and Arizona

Formed by the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead was once America’s largest reservoir, but it has not been near its capacity for more than a decade. It is fed by the snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains, which has less than half its usual snowpack this year.

Photograph by Julie Jacobson/AP Photo
California and Mexico
California and Mexico

In the Yuma Valley, hardly any water flows in the old watercourse of the Colorado River—almost all of it has been diverted to provide water for cities like Las Vegas and Los Angeles, or for crop irrigation further upstream.

Photograph by David Bacon/Report Digital-REA via Redux
Bolivia’s Glaciers
Bolivia’s Glaciers

Water levels remain low at the Zongo Milluni reservoir, which is fed by runoff from the Huayna Potosi glacier and drives hydroelectric turbines, near La Paz. As South America's glaciers recede, the continent's water supplies are increasingly threatened.

Photograph by Lisa Wiltse/Bloomberg
Brazil and Paraguay
Brazil and Paraguay

The hydroelectric Itaipu dam, on the border between Brazil and Paraguay, is owned jointly by the two countries. The dam supplies almost 17 percent of the energy consumed in Brazil and 73 percent of the energy consumed in Paraguay. During construction, 10,000 families were permanently relocated, and the spectacular GuaÌra Falls were submerged.

Photograph by Dado Galdieri/Bloomberg
India
India

Farmers in western India herd cattle in search of water and food, migrating due to the drought. The 2012 monsoon season has been unusually dry, with precipitation levels more than 20 percent below average, sparking fears of drought among farmers who remember the drought of 2009, India's worst in nearly four decades.

Photograph by Sam Panthaky/AFP via Getty Images
China
China

Dry conditions produce cracked earth at a reservoir in Shilin county, Yunnan province. Yunnan is in its third year of drought, its worst in more than 60 years.

Photograph by Ariana Lindquist/Bloomberg
Aral Sea
Aral Sea

Once the fourth-largest lake in the world, the Aral Sea began shrinking in the 1960s when the Soviet Union diverted feeder rivers to irrigate the cotton crops of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The lake began to evaporate and shrink in the 1980s, eventually splitting into two sections and leaving behind a 40,000-square-kilometer zone of dry, white salt terrain now called the Aral Karakum Desert.

Photograph by ESA
Egypt
Egypt

The Toshka Project was created to divert water from Lake Nasser into the sandy deserts of western Egypt. The water is insufficient and unpredictable, as seen near Abu Simbel in 2012. Water has been rationed to certain fields—leaving others to run dry. The efforts, which began in 1997, were supposed to increase Egypt's arable land area by 10 percent, but the project is faltering.

Photograph by David Degner/Getty Images
Lake Turkana, Kenya
Lake Turkana, Kenya

There are plans in the works, mostly from foreign investment, to build the Gibe III dam in Ethiopia on the Omo River, which flows into Lake Turkana, where 12 indigenous tribes currently farm and fish. Access to the resources of the lake is already a source of conflict in the region.

Photograph by Asa Sjostrom/Moment/Redux
Mekong River, Cambodia
Mekong River, Cambodia

Severe drought has dropped the Mekong River to its lowest level in almost 50 years, halting some cargo traffic and boat tours on the Asian waterway that serves 65 million people in six countries.

Photograph by Heng Sinith/AP Photo
Desalination
Desalination

The Wonthaggi Desalination Plant in Australia, completed in December 2012, supplies drinking water to Melbourne via a series of pipelines. From Tampa Bay, Fla., to Carlsbad, Calif, desalination plants are in the works. The largest one is scheduled for Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast, to be completed in 2018.

Photograph by Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg