As climate change becomes the top environmental issue around the world, it presents a new framework for evaluating a host of other sensitive environmental issues, such as loss of biodiversity, desertification, natural disasters, and water scarcity.

On March 6, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will release the second volume of its Fourth Assessment Report on global warming, titled “Impact, Adaptation, and Vulnerability.” An expected key finding will examine predicted water shortages — for 1.1 billion to 3.2 billion people, according to Reuters — and the options available to cope with them. The report comes on the heels of last month’s World Water Day, which focused this year on coping with water scarcity. Water scarcity is not just a problem in arid regions; even in the lush tropical areas like Costa Rica, communities experience water scarcity due to deforestation and intensive agriculture. Water quickly becomes scarce when communities, industry, agriculture, and natural ecosystems all depend on the same source. That competition is expected to intensify as climate change affects precipitation patterns around the globe depleting natural water reservoirs.

The good news is that proven strategies already exist to manage water scarcity. In the southwestern US, climate research shows that temperatures are expected to increase. Predictions vary as to whether the Southwest will become wetter or drier. But a greater variability in precipitation is expected, resulting in a higher frequency of extreme events such as droughts, storms, and flooding.

Up to 75 per cent of the water supplies for the Western US come from snowpack. As glaciers and snowpack decrease with warming temperatures, this natural water reservoir will be depleted. A similar pattern is predicted in other mountainous areas, such as the Andes and the Himalayas — an area that supplies water to 1 billion people.

Governments and international bodies must devise solutions to water scarcity. But individuals can make changes immediately, community groups can start environmental education efforts, and cities and states can devise legislation that meets their specific needs.

An effective way to deal with water scarcity at the local level is to harvest a resource that is freely available: rainwater. We can expand the use of harvesting techniques that capture rainwater on-site, allowing it to be infiltrated in landscape features or stored in cisterns for later use. Countries such as Australia and India are beginning to embrace this method.

To be effective, water harvesting must be coupled with water conservation. Conserve water in your home by planting native landscaping, installing water-efficient appliances, and using gray water. Gray water is water from bathroom sink, shower, or washing machine, which can be used a second time to irrigate landscape. Conserving water also saves energy, as water purification and delivery consumes substantial energy. — The Christian Science Monitor