Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Water, Water, No Where!

1279403I hear about it all the time these days, both on the news and in documentaries warning about the future. We are running out of drinking usable water! While it would be nice and simple if there was just one reason for this, there really are multiple reasons. 

Global Warming and Drought

Intuitively you might think that the one thing that global warming is good for is reduction of drought. I mean the polar caps are melting so that has to create more water and less drought right? Well that's not actually the case. Yes the polar caps are melting and the ocean is going to rise. But we don't drink salt water unfortunately which is where that water is going. The oceans rising isn't going to increase the level of water from the sources where humans get their water. Inland lakes and streams aren't going to rise because the oceans do.

What Global warming is really doing is shift around where the water is because it is changing water patterns. There are literally areas where lakes and rivers were counting on for decades (and longer) for drinking water that are just drying up. Just look at the drought in Texas this year. It's wasn't just a week with no rain. It affected them this whole summer and continues to do so. They are having to sell cattle at a loss because they can't afford to provide them with drinking water. It's either sell them early or let them die!

Increasing Population

You might have heard on the news recently, as a planet we just hit 7 billion (yes that's with a B!) human population level. This means that while global warming is reducing the amount of water available for drinking, we are doubling the amount of water we use over the last few decades. That is a formula for disaster!

When it comes right down to it, yes it's partially the way that we all live, but really all the environmental problems have a lot to do with the fact that we all live! There are just way too many of us to be comfortably sustained by this planet. We need to find smarter ways of using the resources we have left so that we can get as much bang for our buck as possible while there are so many of us. We also as a planet should really be putting some thought into how we might want to reduce our population over generations too!

What Can We Do to Solve the Water Shortage?

The good news is that while the water supply situation isn't good right now there are some things we can do to reduce it's severity. There was a great article in Time a few weeks back talking about this very issue (Droughtbusters). They list a few great ideas for how to help reduce the water shortage. First was expanding the use of water treatments plants that convert sewage back to usable drinking water. It sounds horribly gross but I've heard of this before and apparently we do indeed have the science to make it happen and end up with completely drinkable water with no trace of it's former life as sewage. My only concern here is that I've heard recently that many if not all sewage treatment plants don't have the capability to remove some items that weren't even considered decades ago when they where conceived and built. Mainly these are the pharmaceuticals that we are all taking. Some of them are expelled in out waste and would end up back in the drinking water having who knows what kind of affect on us! I'm sure if the treatments plants are planned to filter these items as well it wouldn't be an issue in the future though. So as long as that little hitch can be handled then I'm all for it.

The next way they talk about reducing the water shortage is seawater desalination. This is a great idea in theory the trick is that it tends to be very expensive to do and is really only feasible for those cities that lie close to oceans. Even if a city in the mid-west was willing to pay for a desalination plant the cost of piping that water from one of the coasts would make it unfeasible. Apparently the cost of desalination is coming down because of new technologies though so it will likely be a more and more feasible piece of the puzzle moving forward. And I suppose if the coastal city lean hard on desalination as a solution then that's more water for the inland cities from traditional sources.

Rainwater harvesting is another great option that they suggest. Many folks like to water their lawn and flowers to keep them looking nice. That is great but as the world water shortage because a real daily hardship on the population as a whole it'll become evident that having your front lawn look nice should be a much lower priority then being able to bath and drink water. This is something I'll definitely be looking into this summer. It can be as simple as a rain barrel that sits at the bottom of your downspout from your roof gutters. Then you use that to water your plants and lawn. I do remember reading online that there are roofing materials that should be used that are non-toxic if you are going to try to consume the water your collect from your roof. Depending on rainfall in your area this can really save significant water usage.

Incentivizing conservation is another suggestion. If a municipality has the resources to offer this it can make a real difference. Whether it's giving a rebate for installing appliances that are water efficient, or rain collection set ups, or even removing the grass lawns all together, it really will reduce the amount of water needed. Of course this is going to be offset by the increased demand because of population growth, but every little bit is going to help!

So yes the over all population and population growth is a major drain on all resources of this planet and water is no exception. In lieu of actually reducing the population over generations though, we need to find a way to both increase the water we have access to (desalination and rain collection) and reduce the amount we use (conservation though more efficiency and simply reducing the assumption of how much water we need - like taking a shorter shower or having smaller lawns).

No comments: