There’s not much to say that you haven’t already heard before about our nation’s infrastructure crisis—$2 trillion and counting—and the delicate water/energy nexus. Dire warnings and scary prognostications have not done the trick apparently, as our communities and local governments still find themselves facing budget shortfalls that have morphed from an inconvenient economic cliff hanger to almost insurmountable abyss (http://water.epa.gov/infrastructure/sustain/infrastructureneeds.cfm).
Doom is on the horizon, and for some countries the water/energy crisis has already arrived.
Earlier this week, more than 370 million Indian citizens found themselves without power for several hours in what’s been described as “a massive electrical grid failure.”* And while transit systems were in disarray for most of the day—stranding commuters and causing traffic gridlocks—government officials were primarily concerned with water supply disruptions.
The blackout forced water pumps to a standstill, and underground reservoirs around New Delhi were immediately affected by the power failure. The effect on water treatment plants is expected to be widespread. The New Delhi Water Board’s water treatment plants do not have backup power systems, according to Sanham Cheema, spokeswoman for the Delhi Jal Board, and because these treatment plants run on a 24 hour clock, Cheema warns that “even slight disruptions can affect them.”
Although power was restored to most residents and businesses by the end of the day on Tuesday, for many the outage is a harbinger of things to come. The Confederation of Indian Industry seized the opportunity to demand that the Indian government “fix the power sector, ensure a steady supply of coal for power plants, and reform the electricity utilities.”
The blackout is an extreme consequence of the country’s tricky power resource balance. As the India morphs into an international economic powerhouse, demand continues to increase, while supply struggles to catch up. The grid failure was the worst to hit India in about a decade, but experts warn that brownouts and blackouts could occur with increasing regularity.
Meanwhile, government officials were quick to point out India is not alone when it comes to grid failures and power shortages. As the Washington Post reports, Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shine “deflected criticism, pointing out that the United States and Brazil also had huge power failures in recent years.”
“I ask you to look at the power situation in other countries as well,” said Shine.
Regardless of the political motivation behind his warning, we’d all be well advised to listen to the substance of Shine’s statement. The truth is that around the world water, energy, economic growth, and dwindling resources are all combining to create a perfect storm. We’d better batten down the hatches, because we could be the next nation in the water/energy nexus crosshairs.
*(Update: News agencies are now reporting that the number of residents effected by the power outages in Indian have topped 600,000,000, nearly half of the nation's population.)