Conclusions

Reducing our water demands and waste should always be an obvious response to drought: using less during times of shortfall, enjoying more in periods of natural abundance. Water conservation should not be just an emergency response to drought, but a long-term approach to managing and alleviating stresses on the world's finite water supplies so that water systems are more resilient in the face of droughts when they do occur.

Water conservation is a powerfully effective short-term drought mitigation tool that is also a proven approach to better managing long-term water demands. Conservation-minded water systems have demonstrated that the efficient management of public, industrial, and agricultural water use during drought is critical to controlling and minimizing the adverse effects of reduced precipitation on water supplies. If we understand where and how much water is used and apply appropriate efficiency practices and measures to reduce water waste, we can more easily endure—economically, environmentally, and politically—drought and projected water shortages. The lessons of effective drought management strategies (i.e., early implementation of comprehensive conservation measures, often requiring use restrictions) show that conservation can also be tapped to help overcome current and projected supply shortfalls that occur during nondrought times as well. The implementation of water waste reduction and efficiency measures can lessen the adverse impacts of excessive water demands on the natural water systems (rivers, aquifers, and lakes) and the ecological resources on which they depend. The notable demand reductions achieved by water-efficiency- minded cities and water systems prove the significant role conservation can play in not only coping with drought but also overcoming supply limitations and bolstering drought resistance through the preservation of water supply capacity. Like any savvy investor, efficiency-minded public officials and water managers who minimize their system water losses and invest in customer water conservation programs will yield a treasure trove of "new" water supplies in reservoirs and aquifers that protect them from future shortages and blunt the effects of drought. Human activities play a key role in our experience of drought. A water-rich or water-poor future will be determined largely by our water conservation actions today.

 
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