Environmental Science, Policy & Engineering Program (ESPE)

Spring 2025

The Water Paradox


Professor Dr. Ashraf Ghaly, P.E.
Department Engineering
Office Olin 102D
Tel., email 518-388-6515, ghalya@union.edu

Lectures: TTH 9:00-10:45AM, Olin 306.

Office hours: immediately after class or request an appointment.


Fresh water is tasteless, odorless, and colorless. These characteristics make water one of the most intriguing materials. It is a necessity for life. Humans, animals, birds, and almost all living creatures cannot live without water. A paradox involves features or qualities of contradictory nature. Water is notorious with such qualities. Water is one of the cheapest materials yet it is the most precious commodity known to humanity. Water could be the source of peace and development yet it could be a reason for war and conflict. Water could be a force for good to generate hydropower yet unchecked or unregulated this force could be in the form of destructive floods. Water could be a weapon to combat desertification yet too much thereof could cause erosion and failures. Floods come with loads of mud and silt that charge river deltas and keep them fertile yet weaker floods result in lesser deposits that could threaten river deltas with sea attacks. Fresh water is the basic building block for life in any of its forms yet contaminated water is a major life-threat in the form of water-borne disease. Water has always been a main reason for people to settle the land yet a shortage thereof could force people to migrate and leave their homeland. This course shows the role water played in the past, is presently playing, and will play in the future in defining communities and societies.


Term Test (6th week) = 25%

Class Participation = 15%

Formula For Fairness (3F) papers (4th & 7th week) = 20%

Term Paper & Presentation = 15%

Final Examination = 25%

90+ = A 85+ = A- 80+ = B+ 75+ = B 70+ = B- 65+ = C+ 60+ = C 55+ = C- 50+ = D



(Required) Periera, L.S., Cordery, I., and Iacovides, I. (2010). "Coping with Water Scarcity: Addressing the challenges," Springer (ISBN-10: 9048181615)

(Optional) Black, Maggie (2016). "The Atlas of Water," 3rd Edition, University of California Press (ISBN-10: 0520292030)


1 Introduction

2 Water Scarcity Concepts
2.1 Concepts
2.1.1 Introduction
2.1.2 Cause of Water Scarcity
2.1.3 Aridity and Drought Water Scarcity
2.2 Coping with Water Scarcity
2.2.1 Main Problem in Brief
2.2.2 Water Management Issues
2.2.3 Implications of Sustainable Development

3 Physical Characteristics and Processes Leading to Water Scarcity
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Climatic Conditions
3.2.1 General Aspects
3.2.2 Rainfall Variability in Time and Space
3.2.3 Evaporation
3.3 Hydrologic Characteristics
3.3.1 Runoff Regime
3.3.2 Groundwater
3.3.3 Sediments
3.3.4 Water Quality
3.4 Climate Change and its Impacts on Water Scarcity
3.5 Meteorological and Hydrological Data Collection and Handling

4 Droughts and Desertification
4.1 Droughts
4.1.1 Definitions
4.1.2 Manifestations of Drought and Drought Impacts
4.1.3 Drought Indices
4.1.4 Drought Forecasting and Prediction
4.1.5 Drought Monitoring
4.1.6 Drought Risk Management and Communication
4.2 Desertification
4.2.1 Concepts and Definitions
4.2.2 Processes and Indicators
4.2.3 Monitoring and Information
4.2.4 Social and Political Constraints and Issues
4.2.5 Issues to Combat Desertification

5 Conceptual Thinking in Coping with Water Scarcity
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Social Value of Water
5.2.1 Water for Life
5.2.2 Differences Between Urban and Rural Needs
5.2.3 Differences Between Arid Zones and on-arid Areas
5.2.4 Social Effects of Water Supply/Collection Practices
5.3 Environmental Value of Water
5.4 Landscape and Cultural Value of Water
5.5 Economic Value of Water
5.5.1 Safe Water Supply has a Cost
5.5.2 Water Pricing
5.6 Priorities for Water Allocation
5.6.1 Who Owns Water
5.6.2 Water Ownership
5.6.3 Water for Human Life
5.6.4 Water for Industry
5.6.5 Irrigation
5.6.6 Water Self Reliance
5.6.7 Gender Issues
5.6.Planning for Optimal Water and Land Use
5.7 International Issues - Treaties Between Sovereign States

6 Surface Water Use and Harvesting
6.1 Large and Small Scale Projects
6.1.1 Definitions
6.1.2 Objectives of Water Use and Harvesting
6.2 Reservoir Management
6.2.1 Need for Reservoirs
6.2.2 Water Scarcity Management
6.2.3 Operation of Single and Multiple Reservoir Systems
6.2.4 Groundwater Recharge
6.2.5 Design and Management of Water Resource Systems
6.3 Control of Water Losses and Non Beneficial Uses of Water
6.3.1 Location of Losses
6.3.2 Reduction of Evaporation
6.3.3 Support for Reduction of Waste of Water
6.4 Water Harvesting
6.4.1 Rainwater Collection
6.4.2 Terracing
6.4.3 Small Dams
6.4.4 Runoff Enhancement
6.4.5 Runoff Collection
6.4.6 Flood Spreading
6.4.7 Water Holes and Ponds
6.4.8 Tanks
6.5 Environmental and Health Issues
6.5.1 Overview
6.5.2 Protection of Stored Water for Drinking
6.5.3 Sediments
6.5.4 Water Quality - Chemical and Bacterial
6.5.5 The Riparian Eco-system and Biodiversity
6.5.6 Water Borne Diseases

7 Groundwater Use and Recharge
7.1 Introduction
7.2 Major Aquifers and Well Fields
7.2.1 Groundwater Reservoir Characteristics
7.2.2 Discharge, Recharge and Storage of Aquifers
7.2.3 Exploitation of Groundwater Storage
7.2.4 Management Considerations
7.2.5 Aquifer Monitoring and Control
7.2.6 Maintenance of Wells, Pumps and Other Facilities
7.3 Minor Aquifers of Local Importance
7.3.1 Particular Aspects of Minor Aquifer
7.3.2 Local Importance of Minor Aquifers and Management Issues
7.4 Environmental, Economic and Social Impacts of Aquifer Overexploitation
7.4.1 General
7.4.2 Groundwater Levels
7.4.3 Water Quality Deterioration
7.4.4 Sea Water Intrusion
7.4.5 Land Subsidence and Land Collapse
7.4.6 Stream Base-Flow Reduction, Drying of Wetlands and Landscape Changes
7.4.7 Economic and Social Impacts
7.5 Artificial Recharge
7.5.1 General
7.5.2 Methods of Artificial Recharge
7.5.3 Artificial Recharge by Spreading
7.5.4 Artificial Recharge by Well Injection
7.5.5 Recharge with Surface and Subsurface Dams
7.5.6 Problems and Solutions
7.5.7 Environmental Impacts of Artificial Recharge
7.6 Conjunctive Use of Surface and Groundwater
7.7 The Use of Groundwater in Coping with Water Scarcity

8 Using Non-conventional Water Resources
8.1 Introduction
8.2 Wastewater Use
8.2.1 Wastewater and Effluent Characteristics
8.2.2 Wastewaters Characteristics Relative to Agricultural Use
8.2.3 Wastewater Treatment
8.2.4 Minimizing Health Hazards in Wastewater Use in Irrigation
8.2.5 Crop Restrictions and Irrigation Practices
8.2.6 Monitoring and Control for Safe Wastewater Use in Irrigation
8.2.7 Wastewater for Aquifer Recharge
8.2.8 Non-agricultural Uses of Wastewater
8.3 Use of Brackish, Saline and Drainage Waters
8.3.1 Characteristics and Impacts of Saline Water
8.3.2 Criteria and Standards for Assessing the Suitability of Water for Irrigation
8.3.3 Crop Irrigation Management Using Saline Water
8.3.4 Leaching Requirements and Control of Impacts on Soil Salinity
8.3.5 Long-Term Impacts: Monitoring and Evaluation
8.3.6 Non-agricultural Use of Saline Waters
8.4 Desalinated Water
8.4.1 General Aspects and Treatment Processes
8.4.2 Extent of Use, Costs and Environmental Impacts of Desalination
8.5 Fog-Capturing, Water Harvesting, Cloud Seeding, and Water Transfers

9 Water Conservation and Saving: Concepts and Performance
9.1 Concepts
9.1.1 Water Conservation and Water Saving
9.2 Water Use, Consumptive Use, Water Losses, and Performance
9.2.1 Water Systems, Efficiency, and Water se Performance
9.2.2 Water Use, Consumption, Wastes and Losses
9.3 Water Use Performance Indicators
9.3.1 Consumptive Use and Beneficial Use
9.3.2 Water Productivity: Irrigation
9.3.3 Water Productivity for any Water Use Sector
9.4 Water Conservation and Saving to Cope with the Various Water Scarcity Regimes
9.5 Implementing Efficient Water Use for Water Conservation and Saving

10 Water Conservation and Saving Measures and Practices
10.1 Water Conservation and Saving in Urban Systems
10.1.1 General Aspects
10.1.2 Monitoring and Metering
10.1.3 Maintenance, and Leak Detection and Repair
10.1.4 Water Pricing
10.1.5 Regulation and Control Equipment, and Service Performance
10.1.6 Dual Distribution Networks for High Quality and for Treated Reusable Water
10.1.7 Legislation and Regulations, Incentives and Penalties
10.1.8 Information and Education
10.2 Water Saving in Domestic Applications
10.2.1 Indoor Water Uses and Saving
10.2.2 Water Saving in Outdoor Applications
10.3 Water Conservation and Saving in Land cape and Recreational Uses
10.4 Water Conservation and Saving in Industrial and Energy Uses
10.5 Water Conservation in Dryland Agriculture
10.5.1 Introductory Concepts
10.5.2 Crop Resistance to Water Stress and Water Use Efficiency
10.5.3 Crop Management for Coping with Water Scarcity
10.5.4 Soil Management for Water Conservation
10.6 Water Saving and Conservation in Irrigated Agriculture
10.6.1 The Overwhelming Importance of Saving Water in Irrigation
10.6.2 Demand Management: General Aspects
10.6.3 Demand Management: Improving Surface Irrigation Systems
10.6.4 Demand Management: Improving Sprinkler Irrigation Systems
10.6.5 Demand Management: Microirrigation Systems
10.6.6 Demand Management: Irrigation Scheduling
10.7 Supply Management

11 Social, Economic, Cultural, Legal and Institutional Constraints and Issues
11.1 Local Communities
11.2 Urban Centers
11.2.1 General
11.2.2 Environmental Consequences
11.2.3 Water Reuse
11.2.4 Reduce Evaporation
11.2.5 Water Conservation Education
11.2.6 Pricing of Urban Water
11.2.7 Institutional Framework
11.2.8 Research
11.3 Rural Areas
11.3.1 Water for Households and Irrigation
11.3.2 Capture of Available Water
11.3.3 Education for Evaporation Reduction
11.3.4 Water Harvesting
11.3.5 Avoidance of Environmental Damage
1 1.3.6 Irrigation Performances
11.3.7 Water Rights
11.4 User Groups
11.5 Administration of Water Use - Public and Private Organizations
11.5.1 Types of Administrative Structures
11.5.2 Equity and Rights

12 Education
12.1 Need to Change Altitudes to Water
12.1.1 Current Attitudes
12.1.2 How Can Altitudes be Changed
12.1.3 Aims of an Educational Program
12.2 Education and Training
12.2.1 Aims of Water Education and Training
12.2.2 Overall Water Education
12.2.3 Educating Children and Youths
12.2.4 The Role of Women
12.2.5 Farmers, Households and Industrial Water Users
12.2.6 Managers, Operational and Maintenance Personnel
12.2.7 Educator, Agronomists and Engineers
12.3 Need for New Developments and Research
12.3.1 New Technologies
12.4 Development of Public Awareness of Water Scarcity Issues
12.4.1 Media in General
12.4.2 Advertising
12.4.3 General Public Information


1. Distribution of water resources amongst countries that rely on the same source of water is often problematic. This is most likely because the available volume of water is insufficient to meet demand. Unfair distribution of water resources, whether true or perceived, can lead to conflicts. In many situations, an elevated intensity of conflict can lead to violent confrontation.
2. Students will be assigned two readings related to famous rivers and their basins. In each case, countries sharing water resources believe that they deserve more water than the quantity they actually receive.
3. In light of all the factors related to the situation at hand, the questions requiring answers in each of the two papers are: what factors should a Formula For Fairness include; what is the importance (the weight) of the factors they used in developing their formula, and why any of these factors, if any, should exert more weight than others.
4. Students are required to apply the formula they developed to each of the riparian countries of the river under consideration and compare the quantities calculated by their formula with the actual quantities these countries presently receive.
5. Students are expected to detail in their paper why they believe their formula is fair (or fairer than the presently implemented distribution).

Papers must be submitted as a PDF or Word document. There is no minimum or maximum number of pages for the paper.




The term paper is due before the last week of the term and this as will be announced. The paper should be uploaded to nexus as a PDF or a Word document. There is no minimum or maximum number of pages for the paper. Students may wish to supplement their text with proper photos, pictures, tables, graphs, charts, and figures. Supplementing materials must be referenced at least once in the text of the paper

Paper Grading Criteria
Students taking this course will receive Engineering/Technology/Society (ETS) credit. Classroom presentations and discussion will promote critical thinking to enable students to evaluate evidence, results, and claims related to the natural sciences/engineering/technology and their impact on broader human or societal issues. In their written paper and in their oral presentation, students are expected to highlight and detail principles similar to those listed above. The grade in this term paper will be assigned based on the quality and depth of thought, organization, and relevance of content to the subject under consideration, understanding, clarity of presentation, and demonstration of ability to address questions with comprehension.


  1. Students will develop an understanding that a very precious resource such as water has been and continues to be very paradoxical in the way humans use it.
  2. Students will learn that water has been the lifeline for ancient civilizations and is presently the fuel that propels modern economies. Life in its known form can only exist in the presence of water and all creatures need it for survival.
  3. Students will develop a fresh perspective regarding the paradox of the seemingly abundance of water and the scarcity of the same in the sense that over half of Plant Earth inhabitants do not have access to fresh water supplies.
  4. Students will appreciate the need to regulate the use of water and the importance of fair distribution to avoid conflicts and wars. History is rich with examples showing nations willing to go to war over water resources.
  5. Students will comprehend that as precious as it is, contaminated water can be an agent for water-borne disease.
  6. Students will get the opportunity to research as subject of interest related to water and document their findings in a term paper.

SUGGESTED REFERENCES (possible sources for additional reading)

Professor Ghaly Homepage Union College Homepage