Water: A Renewable Resource?
Here is a clip from the eye-opening 2008 documentary, Blue Gold: World Water Wars.
Makes you think, huh? Well, if you live in an Industrialized Nation, access to clean water isn’t revered as a luxury, it is an expected resource.
Water is readily available to drink, to wash with, and even to water our plants and yards with.
Extra Extra: Water Scarcity and Conservation is not something I need to worry about, says most Americans.
When polled, the majority of the people’s views on whether drinking water will become scarce or not is that it is not going to happen for hundreds, may be even thousands of years from now.
Well, after watching several documentaries on Water, I have come to have a deeper appreciation for this precious resource.
Perhaps if we all had a better reason to care, we would…
Where does the water come from?
This Bar Graph from the US Geological Survey (USGS) is a great visual.
In the first bar, notice how only 2.5% of all Earth’s water is freshwater, which is what life needs to survive.
The middle bar shows the breakdown on that 2.5% which is freshwater. Almost all of it is locked up in ice and in the ground. Only a bit more than 1.2% of all freshwater (which was only 2.5% of all water) is surface water, which serves most of life’s needs
The right side bar shows the breakdown of only the surface freshwater, which was only about 1.2% of all freshwater. Most of surface freshwater is locked up in ice, and another 20.9% is in lakes. Notice the 0.49% of surface freshwater that is in rivers. Sounds like a tiny amount, but rivers are where humans get a large portion of their water from.
The UN reports:
Water use has been growing at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century, and, although there is no global water scarcity as such, an increasing number of regions are chronically short of water.
Water scarcity is both a natural and a human-made phenomenon. There is enough freshwater on the planet for seven billion people but it is distributed unevenly and too much of it is wasted, polluted and unsustainably managed.
Source: World Water Development Report 4. World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP), March 2012.
I thought this was an interesting comment:
There’s often discussion in the news of the world’s dwindling water supply, but this isn’t entirely accurate. The amount of water isn’t diminishing, but the demand for it is steadily increasing. Some scientists believe that the world’s population, currently  at 6 billion, will double by 2050
In addition, the amount of water that is clean and drinkable is steadily decreasing because of pollution.
For Americans, water is a seemingly abundant natural resource; water scarcity seems more like fantasy than reality. For most people (until recently, myself included) water conservation and its importance is not top of mind. Like the perpetual doormat, we take water for granted, as it is always around, available when we want it.
Water conservation may not be a sexy topic, but that being said, regardless of your race, political or social views anyone who goes without water will die. People need water to survive.
We were taught that water is a renewable resource. We aren’t going to run out of water, are we?
I think the better question we all must ask ourselves is, how much water will be usable in the future?
This image from NASA depicts the Water Cycle simply.
Precipitation is a vital component of how water moves through Earth’s water cycle, connecting the ocean, land, and atmosphere
The water cycle describes how water evaporates from the surface of the earth, rises into the atmosphere, cools and condenses into rain or snow in clouds, and falls again to the surface as precipitation.
The water falling on land collects in rivers and lakes, soil, and porous layers of rock, and much of it flows back into the oceans, where it will once more evaporate.
How is water polluted?
National Geographic reports:
Containing traces of contaminants ranging from birth control pills and sunscreen to pesticides and petroleum, our planet’s lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater are often a chemical cocktail.
Beyond synthetic pollution, freshwater is also the end point for biological waste, in the form of human sewage, animal excrement, and rainwater runoff flavored by nutrient-rich fertilizers from yards and farms.
These nutrients find their way through river systems into seas, sometimes creating coastal ocean zones void of oxygen—and therefore aquatic life—and making the connection between land and sea painfully obvious
When you dump paint down the drain, it often ends up in the ocean, via freshwater systems.
In developing countries, 70 percent of industrial wastes are dumped untreated into waters, polluting the usable water supply.
Every day 2 million tons (1.8 billion kilograms) of human waste are disposed of in waterways around the world.
What are Wetlands? According to the EPA
Wetlands are part of the foundation of our nation’s water resources and are vital to the health of waterways and communities that are downstream.
Wetlands feed downstream waters, trap floodwaters, recharge groundwater supplies, remove pollution, and provide fish and wildlife habitat.
The Union of Concerned Scientist reported:
Nearly two-thirds of the Great Lakes region’s original wetlands have already been destroyed, thus eliminating the important wetland functions of water cleansing, flood control, sediment trapping, fish spawning, and provision of wildlife habitat.
What have we learned thus far?
Although 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered with water, only 2.5% of the Earth’s water is freshwater.
Untreated industry waste is entering our usable water system and
The vast wetlands that once helped cleanse our ecosystem, have largely been destroyed
How much longer can we continue to ignore the facts? Does having a better understanding of how the ecosystem works peak your interest as to how as a society, we can ensure that this precious resource is sustanible?
What happens when rainfall is below normal and/or there are draughts? It affects the water cycle. The demand for water is more than the supply.
Blue Gold: World Water Wars writers contend that the future will be fought over water as they are over oil today, as the source of human survival enters the global marketplace and political arena.
We are mining the ground water faster than it can be replenished (up to 15 times more)
When it rains, it falls onto the ground and is stored in what is referred to as, aquifers.
How much of the finite water is underground? We can only estimate, as there is no accurate way to measure.
We pump approximately 30 billion gallons of groundwater EVERY day
What is the difference between Surface Water and Ground Water?
supplies in aquifers below the surface of the Earth are among the nation’s most important natural resources. Ground water is the source of about 40% of the water used for public supply.
It provides drinking water for more than 97% of the rural population who do not have access to public water-supply systems. Even some major cities, such as San Antonio, Texas, rely solely on ground water for all their needs. Between 30 and 40 % of the water used for agriculture comes from ground water.
Withdrawals of ground water are expected to rise in the coming century as the population increases and available sites for surface reservoirs become more limited.
Can be found over the land surface in streams, ponds, marshes, lakes or other fresh (not salty) sources.
Other than the location, one of the primary differences between surface and ground water is that ground water moves much slower than surface water.
Surface water is also more easily contaminated than ground water. Filtration through the soil helps clean ground water.
Each source of water has a unique set of contaminants; groundwater stores pesticide chemicals and nitrate while surface water contains most bacteria and other microorganisms. Because of the interconnectedness of groundwater and surface water, these contaminants may be shared between the two sources. Neither water source can ever be entirely free from water contaminants.
Groundwater is a hidden resource. At one time, its purity and availability were taken for granted. Now contamination and availability are the current serious issues. It is possible that the water coming from your faucet could contain chemicals that are harmful to your health. More and more we are hearing about situations where the quality of our water is not good enough for normal uses
chemical pollutants have been detected in streams, endangering plant and animal life; sewage spills have occurred, forcing people to boil their drinking water; pesticides and other chemicals have seeped into the ground and have harmed the water in aquifers; and, runoff containing pollutants from roads and parking lots have affected the water quality of urban streams.
From the documentary, I learned that man-made sinkholes are created when over-pumping of ground water occurs!
Co-Author, Maude Barlow laments
Climatic factors include periods of temporary but severe drought and long-term climatic changes toward dryness. Human factors include artificial climatic alteration, as through the removal of vegetation (which can lead to unnaturally high erosion), excessive cultivation, and the exhaustion of water supplies.
Desertification drains an arid or semiarid land of its life-supporting capabilities. It is characterized by a declining groundwater table, salt accumulation in topsoil and water, a decrease in surface water, increasing erosion, and the disappearance of native vegetation.
So we really have to face the crisis here that what we were taught in school- that this finite amount of water could never run out is technically true. But if you can’t access it because you took it from an aquifer and poured it into a desert to grow cotton, or polluted it, it is of NO use to us.
Dr. Michal Kravcik explains:
As we dry out the land, it changing from green to yellow, resulting in all the freshwater cumulating in the ocean.
The Land surface weight is lightened, while the rise of water in the oceans, increases the weight on the ocean floor. This can cause changes of the earth’s crust, which causes earthquakes and potentially tsunami waves like the ones in 2004.
In 50 years there will likely be a collapse of the planet’s water source
In summary, the belief that we will never run out of water has perpetuated apathy and garnered little interest to entertain thoughts that a water crisis is plausible.
Hopefully, the realization is upon us now, that if the water isn’t accessible or it is polluted, we will still have water but it may “be of no use to us” as it is may not be (readily) available for human consumption.
Perhaps it would grab more headlines it is was stressed that, if we continue down the current path, drinking water is not going to be finitely available due to pollution and the demand of growing populations are outweighing the supply of groundwater that is replenished.
The next post will talk about the commoditization of water. What was once considered a natural resource, is now considered a commodity.
The privatization and sales of bottled water has given control to corporations over our precious, natural resource. As a nation, how much control do we want For-Profit Corporations to have over our water supply? Our lifeline?