The theme of this year’s World Water Week (kicking off this Sunday in Stockholm) is “energy and water,” an acknowledgement of the critical yet complex relationship between these two forces. A version of this post was originally published on CGIAR’s Agriculture and Ecosystems Blog.
Cloud forest in Haiti. Tropical cloud forests act like a sponge, filtering water, regulating flow to rivers and reducing sedimentation — important services that can prolong the life of dams. (© Robin Moore)
Who would have thought that restoring cloud forests could help keep the lights on during periods of water scarcity and electricity rationing? This news may seem surprising — but as one of the scientists behind this research, I can tell you that it’s quite encouraging.
Electricity rationing has been a special concern lately for tropical countries like Brazil, which depend heavily on hydropower. This year, the risk of electricity shortages in the country tops 20%, well above the 5% the Brazilian government deems acceptable.
Why? To put it simply, there’s just not enough water. According to a recent article in The Economist, Brazil generates roughly 80% of its electricity from hydropower plants. Yet minimal rainfall coupled with high temperatures has meant that reservoirs in the southeast and west, which represent around 70% of Brazil’s total storage capacity, are currently only 40% full.
Other countries like Colombia have also been stricken by severe drought this year. Although there is no risk of electricity rationing, the public has been advised to save water as a precautionary measure. Some of the drought impacts have likely been exacerbated by poor environmental management — and if climate change continues to have the effect scientists predict, they won’t be disappearing anytime soon.
But here’s the good news: Cloud forests can help. Tropical cloud forests act like a sponge, filtering water, regulating flow to rivers and reducing sedimentation — important services that can prolong the life of dams. Continue reading