Yesterday, during this series on sustainable/green living, I discussed the topic of dirty water.
I said how in most developing nations, there’s a problem with water contamination due to poor sanitation/hygiene, and this leads to serious illness and death.
That by itself is a big problem. But probably the biggest problem with water, and one that is being experienced worldwide, is the problem of peak water.
We all know of the concept of peak oil, the understanding that there is only a finite amount of oil, and that one day it will peak and then begin to taper off.
There is a vast amount of water on the planet but sustainably managed water is becoming scarce. Much of the world’s water in underground aquifers and in lakes behaves like a finite resource by being depleted.
There is concern that the state of peak water is being approached in many areas around the world. If present trends continue, 1.8 billion people will be living with absolute water scarcity by 2025, and two thirds of the world population could be subject to water stress.
Peak water is not about running out of fresh water, but the peaking and subsequent decline of the production rate of the water.
Fresh water is a renewable resource, yet the world’s supply of clean, fresh water is steadily decreasing. The world has an estimated 326 quintillion gallons of water but 97 percent of it is salty.
Nearly 70% of that fresh water is frozen in the icecaps of Antarctica and Greenland. Most of the remainder is present as soil moisture or lies in deep underground aquifers as groundwater not accessible to human use.
Less than 1% of the world’s fresh water or 0.007% of all water on earth is accessible for direct human use. This is the water found in lakes, rivers, reservoirs and those underground sources that are shallow enough to be tapped at an affordable cost. Only this minuscule amount is regularly renewed by rain and snowfall, and is therefore available on a sustainable basis.
The amount of available freshwater supply is decreasing because of climate change, which has caused receding glaciers, reduced stream and river flow, and shrinking lakes. Many aquifers have been over-pumped and are not recharging quickly. Although the total fresh water supply is not used up, much has become polluted, salted, unsuitable or otherwise unavailable for drinking, industry and agriculture.
Water demand already exceeds supply in many parts of the world, and as the world population continues to rise at an unprecedented rate, many more areas are expected to experience this imbalance in the near future.
Different countries around the world are experiencing water issues. Here are the situations in the three largest countries in terms of water consumption.
India has 20 percent of the Earth’s population, but only four per cent of its water. Water tables are dropping fast in some of India’s main agricultural areas. The mighty Indus and Ganges rivers are tapped so heavily that, except in rare wet years, they no longer reach the sea.
India has the largest water withdrawal out of all the countries in the world. Eighty-six per cent of that water goes to support agriculture.
China, as the most populous country in the world, has the second largest water withdrawal out of all the countries in the world. Sixty-eight per cent of that water goes to support agriculture and its growing industrial base is consuming twenty-six percent.
China is facing a water crisis where water resources are over-allocated, inefficiently used, and grossly polluted by human and industrial wastes. One third of China’s population lacks access to safe drinking water. Rivers and lakes are dead and dying, groundwater aquifers are over-pumped, uncounted species of aquatic life have been driven to extinction, and direct adverse impacts on both human and ecosystem health are widespread and growing.
The United States has about 5% of the world’s population, yet the U.S. uses almost as much water as India (20% of world’s population) or China (also 20% of world’s population). The industrial sector in the US consumes more water than the agricultural sector. There are 36 states in the U.S. in some form of water stress, from serious to severe.
The Ogallala Aquifer in the southern high plains (Texas and New Mexico) is being mined at a rate that far exceeds replenishment. Portions of the aquifer will not naturally recharge due to layers of clay between the surface and the water-bearing formation. The term fossil water is sometimes used to describe aquifers that are not sustainable because the recharge rate is extremely slow.
In California, massive amounts of groundwater are being sucked out of the Central Valley groundwater aquifers — unreported, unmonitored, and unregulated.
California’s Central Valley is home to one sixth of all U.S. irrigated land, and the state leads the nation in agricultural production and exports. This can have major implications for the U.S. economy.
Other parts of the U.S. are also experiencing water issues, due to shortages from overconsumption and lack of conservation.
Lastly, remember the classic film Chinatown? Directed by Roman Polanski, starring Jack Nicholson as Los Angeles-based private investigator J.J. Gittes, it was a mystery based on the water wars that took place in the early part of the 20th century in L.A.
Nicholson’s character unraveled the corruption behind the power play to own the water rights to L.A., and it was based on the truth – water was like gold, and many unscrupulous characters resorted to whatever means necessary to own it.
Here is the trailer to the film: