A major theme of IonE's work is the management of freshwater resources. When the population growth of the next 40 years is coupled with the climate change likely to occur in that time, the availability of clean, fresh water will be a major issue. The water sources for intensely populated parts of the world, often fed by global warming-sensitive glaciers and snowmelt, may dwindle even as those population centers grow.
As important as the availability of drinking water is, it is only a small part of the looming water crisis. Approximately 15% of global water consumption is for household use. An equal amount is consumed for industrial uses—for the production of electricity and for refining and manufacturing processes. Agriculture, however, is the thirstiest consumer of freshwater. About 69% of worldwide water use is for the irrigation of crops, much of that coming from sources that will not replenish themselves.
As population grows, so will the need for electricity, goods and food. But freshwater only composes 3% of the Earths water, and more than two thirds of that is frozen in glaciers and polar icecaps. IonE and its collaborating programs are researching the impacts of agriculture and industry on the freshwater supply, and developing strategies that will allow the planet’s limited supply of water to meet the needs of its future population, without sacrificing our health or that of the environment.
IonE's River Life program applies global water resource management studies to the Mississippi River, running right through the University of Minnesota's campus. The River Life program hopes to contribute to the development of a sustainable urban waterfront, creating an example of a healthy community balanced with a healthy river.