Water distribution is the process of bringing water to consumers. It takes a number of forms around the world from pressurized municipal water that delivers water directly into homes to traveling tanker trunks that distribute water to community access points. Distribution of water resources is usually overseen by a government agency, although private utilities may also be involved.
Water is a finite resource. Worldwide, supplies of freshwater are limited and there are some areas where water scarcity is a significant issue. Low water supplies are especially pressing in desert areas and regions that have been impacted by environmental pollution. Water distribution is not just about getting supplies of water to people who need it, but about allocating water to ensure that it is used efficiently and to provide access to safe water for as many people as possible.
The process of water distributions starts with identifying a source of water and determining what kind of treatment may be needed to make it usable. The water is moved through treatment facilities and into distribution systems, including networks of pipes, canals, and aqueducts. Movement of water through the system is controlled by officials who make decisions about when to release water for distribution and how much to release at a time.
The water is also constantly monitored for signs that impurities are being introduced. This can include chemical and biological impurities that may pose a threat to human health, and require water authorities to restrict water distributions until the unwanted substances in the water can be resolved. Water distribution is concerned with the safety of water supplies from both accidental and inadvertent contamination. Once water is contaminated, it is costly and difficult to clean up.
In areas where water shortages are present, water distribution management includes making difficult decisions about how to allocate water resources. Utilities may limit availability of water to certain times of the day to cut down on usage and citizens may be encouraged to conserve water as much as possible. Fines and tiered pricing structures can be used to penalize households with high water usage to promote conservation.
In addition to considering the needs of individual consumers, people in charge of water distribution must think about industrial and agricultural resources of water. Interruptions of water supplies can result in costly delays that may have a ripple effect. Reduced availability of fresh produce, for example, can lead to food insecurity and the need to import food supplies to make up the difference, and these problems can become protracted.