This is historical material “frozen in time”. The website is no longer updated and links to external websites and some internal pages may not work.

Search form

Changing the Game on Water Supply

Thanks to American innovation, solutions to water resource challenges are within reach.

A few days ago in Paris – after years of hard work – the world came together around an historic, ambitious, and enduring agreement to take real action on climate change. This agreement is a tribute to American leadership and American innovation. But it is also a reminder of what we must still accomplish together. As President Obama underscored, this agreement will unleash investment and innovation in clean energy at a scale we have never seen before. Although the targets we set are bold, by empowering businesses, scientists, engineers, workers, and investors to work together, we will meet them. 

Just as investment and innovation will power our ability to meet the bold emissions targets, they will be critical ingredients to our ability to adapt to a changing climate. That’s why today at the White House, we have convened leaders from across all sectors to figure out how we will work together to deploy our successful innovation playbook on mitigation technology in the adaptation arena. Specifically, we will focus on how – as a country – we can up our game on water technology.

Groundwater Depletion

There is a reason we’re starting with water: some of the most severe impacts of climate change are on our country’s water resources, and as we’ve already seen in California, natural disasters like drought can cost a state multi-billions of dollars. In 2012 alone, droughts affected about two-thirds of the continental United States, impacting water supplies, tourism, transportation, energy and fisheries – costing the agricultural sector alone $30 billion. In addition, the groundwater in many of the nation’s aquifers are being depleted at unsustainable rates which means that we are often drilling ever deeper to tap groundwater resources.

Because of American innovation, however, the solutions are within reach.

It’s a proven playbook: Five years ago, the Obama Administration launched the SunShot Initiative to make solar cost-competitive with fossil fuels by 2020. I remember vividly the skepticism we faced about whether this goal was realistic. But innovators and investors rose to the challenge, and, in partnership with the Federal government, the price of solar is less than half from when the Initiative began.  Last year alone, solar installations climbed by 30 percent. And with nearly 200,000 jobs already in the U.S. solar industry, solar jobs are growing 10 times faster than the rest of the economy.

Solar Costs Fall towards the SunShot Initiative Goal

This same approach to innovation can help us address some of the water resource challenges we face as well. Just as we have done in energy, we need to develop and deploy the technologies and practices that both conserve water and generate new, clean supplies. We can do this by laying out clear technical targets and mobilizing innovators and investors.

That’s why, at our White House convening today, the Administration will unveil a new water innovation strategy that leverages public-private partnerships – to address the impacts of climate change on the use and supply of our nation’s water resources. This two-prong strategy will require promoting and investing in breakthrough research and development that reduces the price and energy costs of new water supply technology, and boosting water sustainability through the greater utilization of water-efficient and water reuse technologies. This strategy is about new cost-effective climate solutions – and new American businesses and jobs.  

First, the water innovation strategy calls for promoting and investing in breakthrough research and development (R&D) that will reduce the price and energy costs of new water supply technology to achieve “pipe parity” in the next decade.  High costs currently prohibit most communities from turning non-traditional water sources like seawater into fresh water. Through new ambitious technical targets for cost-competitive new supplies of water from nontraditional sources, such as seawater, we can reach “pipe parity,” or achieve costs equal to those from current processes for delivering fresh water. This means reducing cost by four times, electricity usage by three times, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by two times – all in the next decade.

Necessary Cost Reductions

Second, the water innovation strategy calls for boosting water sustainability through the greater utilization of water-efficient and water reuse technologies.  By continuing to support efforts by our businesses, industries, and communities to make efficient use of water, especially in water-stressed regions, and through better management practices and technology, we have potential to reduce our country’s water usage by 33 percent. This would bring us closer in line with other industrialized nations, and could reduce the nation’s total CO2 emissions by about 1.5 percent annually.

We live on the “Blue Marble”. And yet so many of our communities today face water resource challenges. Developing solutions to these challenges will only grow in salience – at home and abroad – with our changing climate.  Water, after all, is the primary medium through which so many feel the impacts of climate change.  This recognition was unavoidable in Paris, and I suspect it will be a mainstay of our global climate dialogue. 

Fortunately, we can do something about these challenges. 

With today’s convening and our new water innovation strategy, we’re taking an important next step in mobilizing folks across sectors to come together and deploy our successful innovation playbook in the adaptation. Over the coming months, we’ll announce Federal investments to support the research and development of these technologies just as we continue to work to mobilize private sector investments as we did this past month through Mission Innovation. In fact, today, we’re launching a new Center for Natural Resources Investment at the Interior Department to support this critical private sector engagement. 

In addition, we’re announcing that on March 22, 2016, the United Nation’s World Water Day, the Administration will bring representatives from Federal, State, regional, local and tribal governments together with private-sector and other stakeholder groups to the White House to showcase the ways in which the public-private water innovation strategy is making progress in this important area.  For more information on this event, and to submit your input and examples of progress, click here.

These are important next steps as we up our game on water technology, marshaling investment and innovation to power our ability to adapt to a changing climate. 

Learn More

  • Click here to view the fact sheet for today's announcements.
  • Click here to view the White House report on Water Resource Challenges and Opportunities for Water Technology Innovation.
  • Click here to view the video of the White House Water Innovation Roundtable Discussion.
  • Click here to submit your input and examples of progress on water innovation.