Global reservoir reserves are declining

Researchers in the United States have found that global reservoirs have been emptying over the past 20 years. The decline experienced by reservoirs in the Global South was particularly pronounced during this period, while reservoirs in the North grew overall. With projected reduced water runoff and increased water demand, this observed diminishing storage yield from reservoir construction is likely to continue into the future, with potential impacts on water supply. The study was recently published in Nature Communications.

In the face of a growing global population and a warming climate, surface reservoirs are an important means of ensuring water availability. Reservoirs enhance people’s ability to manage the earth’s freshwater resources, but they also have environmental and social side effects. The amount of water available in reservoirs and related trends have not been quantified on a global scale.

Yao Li, Huilin Gao and colleagues at Texas A&M University used satellite data to estimate the changes in the reserves of 7245 reservoirs around the world between 1999~2018. They found that the overall global reservoir reserves were increasing at a rate of about 28 cubic kilometers per year as a result of the construction of new reservoirs. Despite these efforts, the new reservoir is not storing water as expected. They found that reservoir water storage levels are declining in South America and most parts of Africa, where water demand is increasing due to population growth. In contrast, reservoirs in the Global North, including North America and Europe, are becoming fuller.

These findings suggest that solving the problems associated with limited water resources requires new management strategies (especially reservoir regulation) not only by building new reservoirs. These findings also provide new perspectives to reassess the socio-economic benefits of building new reservoirs, providing insight into the contradiction between growing water demand and decreasing availability in developing countries. (Source: China Science News, Jinnan)

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