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WIREs Water
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Water, food, and energy security: scrambling for resources or solutions?

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Anthropogenic‐induced climate changes and population growth projected by 2050, combined with global economic growth driven by emerging markets, suggest that greater stress will be placed on water, food, and energy resources in the future. These resources are interdependent and are linked in a complex global network of trade. As pressures on the three resources grow, three‐way interactions arise so that a solution to address scarcity in one cannot be achieved without impact on the others. The water security, food security, and energy security trilemma creates a multidimensional web that is a structurally complex network with dynamic links among resources that vary in both weight and direction. Because structure affects function, characterizing the network anatomy that links the resources in three‐way interactions is helpful when setting goals to meet resource security. We argue that water plays a central role in shaping interactions and that the main scarcity issues occur with trade‐offs between thermoelectric power generation and agriculture, between hydroelectric power generation and agriculture, and between biofuel production and food production. Three illustrations—the Apalachicola–Chattahoochee–Flint River Basin in the southeastern United States, the island nation of Sri Lanka, and Brazil—capture the main three‐way interactions that we have identified. Although the problems that strew the path to global sustainability are massive, we suggest alternatives along both technological and nontechnological paths to meet future needs. WIREs Water 2014, 1:49–68. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1004 This article is categorized under: Human Water > Rights to Water
Electricity generation in Sri Lanka. Hydropower supplied over 90% of the total in the early 1990s but supplies only about 40% currently.
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Changing freshwater withdrawal (surface water and groundwater) demand patterns from (a) 1970 to (b) 2005. The outer circles show freshwater withdrawal percentages by sector for the United States. The inner circles show freshwater withdrawal percentages by sector for the Apalachicola–Chattahoochee–Flint (ACF) River Basin. In 2005, total withdrawals in the United States increased by approximately 10% 1970 values, and total withdrawals in the ACF River Basin increased by approximately 35% 1970 values.
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Water withdrawals (y‐axis) by demand‐side sector (x‐axis) for each of the rivers in the Apalachicola–Chattahoochee–Flint (ACF) River Basin. Colors correspond to the rivers in the basin; that is, blue circles represent Apalachicola River withdrawals, red circles represent Chattahoochee River withdrawals, and green circles represent Flint River withdrawals. Circle sizes correspond to the percent demand each sector withdrawals within its corresponding river compared to the total demand of all sectors within the corresponding river. Public supply and thermoelectric withdrawals are the dominating sectors in the Chattahoochee River. The Apalachicola primarily supports thermoelectric power and the Flint River Basin primarily supports the agricultural economy in Georgia.
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Water–food–energy interactions: (a) water resources, (b) water contamination from agricultural residue runoff, (c) blue and green water for irrigation, (d) food resources, (e) energy for fertilizers, pesticides, and farming equipment and machines, (f) agricultural land and resources for biofuels, (g) energy resources, (h) water for fuel cycle, electricity generation, and inland transportation of energy, (i) energy for acquisition, conveyance, treatment, and end‐use of water, and water contamination from energy, (j) competition‐driven interrelationships, trade‐offs, and insecurities among (a) water, (d) food, and (g) energy. In times when resources are abundant and reliable (i.e., secure), the links among water, food, and energy are defined clearly. The three‐way interactions among resources are often overlooked; two‐way interactions [e.g., (h) water for energy] appear to be independent of the third resource because the third resource does not directly influence the function of the network. As resources encounter stressors (e.g., economic growth, population growth, weather, and climate) and limiters (e.g., political opposition; social, behavioral, and cultural norms; and spatial and temporal distribution), the links between them become intertwined and it becomes obvious that all three resources are codependent (j).
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Biofuel (biodiesel plus bioethanol) production in Brazil. Biodiesel feedstock is primarily soybeans (77%) with animal tallow second (16%).
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Trade‐off frontiers between hydropower and irrigation. The annual rainfall at Kothmale Dam, a large reservoir at the headwaters of the Mahaweli system, is used as a proxy for water availability in the system; annual rainfall is plotted as red circles and labeled. The blue curves are stylized trade‐off frontiers for annual rainfall of 100, 150, 200, 250, and 300 cm. For high rainfall (e.g., 300 cm), the hypothesis is that there is enough water that high levels of both paddy production and hydropower are possible—there is little trade‐off. For low rainfall (e.g., 150 cm) the hypothesis is that trade‐offs are significant; for example, a change in hydropower from about 2200 to 3100 GWh results in a drop in paddy production from 5 × 106 to 1.5 × 106 metric tons (paddy production and hydropower generation data are at the national level). The data is not perfect (e.g., the actual annual rainfall outlier represented by 213 cm), but a general trade‐off trend is noticeable.
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