We, the people, are running short of potable water.
On a planet that’s covered with more than 70 percent water, only 2.5 percent is the “fresh” variety.
The greatest part of that is tied up in the planet’s ice-caps, glaciers and snowpack. And what’s happening there? Yes, it’s melting into the sea, left to turn salty and unpalatable.
The reduction in snowpack meltwater alone means major hardship on nearly two billion people by 2021, declares NASA’s Tom Painter, a leading expert on the subject. “It’s one of the biggest stories of climate change.”
By 2025—close now—some 40 percent of the world’s population will be living in countries with chronic water scarcity.
The U.S. is not immune.
Florida doesn’t have a single river that originates in-state, and those that flow from the north bring less and less water every year. Upriver, Georgia and Alabama draw-off more and more of what Florida used to get.
Lawsuits back and forth among the three states to resolve the issue have been a constant since the 1980s.
As time wears on, all three states come out with less and less water.
Between 1960 and 2009, the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River system had lost more than 20 percent of its water flow, according to Aris Georgakokas, director of the Georgia Water Resources Institute at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
The river system is expected to lose another 20 percent of its volume in the next 50 years.
Groundwater levels beneath Florida’s major population centers have been falling for most of a century.
Shrinking wetlands statewide soak up less and less rainfall, so less fresh water perks into those ancient limestone aquifers. Desalination of seawater is now the fresh water hope for the state, and there is much to be uneasy about there (see below).
The six million people of metropolitan Atlanta, Georgia, draw 70 percent of their water from a reservoir fed by a skinny little river a grown man can wade across on a normal day and never get his shoulders wet.
Southern California grows generally dryer with dwindling rivers flowing out of increasingly snowless mountains, and the take from the far-off Colorado River grows ever more tenuous.
The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains that irrigates so much of the state’s Central Valley agricultural region was five percent of 2010 levels in 2015. About a third of the state’s fresh water supply comes from snowmelt. Heavy winter rain and snow in the region in 2016-17 took some of the anxiety out of the situation, but no one expects that to become the norm.
Los Angeles and other cities in southern California cannot continue to prosper with water availability so precarious.
It has to do something.
LA, long ago, sucked-dry 100 square miles of Owens Lake 230 miles north and left the entire region a desert. It has been working on Mona Lake 70 miles further north since 1941. Same results shaping up there.
Where to next for the water-needy megalopolis?
The people and industry of the eight states—a sprawl from South Dakota to Texas—laying over some portion of the precious water supply of the Ogallala Aquifer have nothing to replace it. Once depleted, the aquifer will need 6,000 years of rainfall to replenish, the Washington Post reported.
The 60 million people of the American southwest watch their primary river, the Colorado, and fresh water reservoir, Lake Mead, drop ever lower with little prospects for restoration.
Against this backdrop, it’s easy to see the folly in so much of our current practices related to water in this country.
Failure to Adjust
Building massive industrial processes (i.e., steam-powered electricity generation) on sinful consumption of precious fresh water and never changing, even as modern technology provided better options, was sure to result in water shortages for everyone else.
Continuing to use good fresh water to transport human excrement 2,500 years after the practice started is an absurdity.
Surely, modern technology has a better solution than the one ancient Roman engineers developed so long ago.
Today, virtual rivers of increasingly scarce fresh water gurgle around in endless sewer pipes beneath every sizable city on Earth.
On an even broader scale, destroying the productivity of the oceans with global warming, chemical run-off and plastic waste can only end badly.
How much frozen fresh water will be left in 20 years? In 50 years? What can the grown-ups of that time—just children today—expect for the availability of fresh water?
Answer: it depends on what today’s adults—the last environmental saviors—do about the problem in the next decade or two.
Counting on government to fix these problems has proven a gross mistake. It is not strong enough to stop the degradation nor innovative enough to stretch-out diminishing water supplies long-term.
Consumers have to take on this problem. The ways and means to succeed exist in abundance.
How do consumers use their purchasing power to buy the children out of the dangers of fresh water shortages and degraded seas? Here are some of the ways…
Better Water Management
That which is cheaply priced is cheaply regarded.
Water waste will not end or even slow until its cost begins to reflect its value.
Right now, before the shortages become acute, consumers need to put on their “consumer lobbyist hat” and push regulators to raise the cost of the commodity until the waste stops. Familiarize yourself with the subject: (Finding the Right Price of Water) and (The Risks of Cheap Water).
Exert your will, for the sake of the children.
Beyond pricing, water agencies/companies need to move away from “selling water” to “selling water services,” including much of what’s noted below.
Start the conservation. Change things.
Ultra-efficient Water Fixtures
Counting agriculture and industry, water consumption in America per person averages more than 130 gallons per day.
In homes and businesses, nearly all the water used is drained straight into the sewer system where it is infused with all the contaminants therein (including waste pharmaceuticals), adding appreciably to taxpayer costs for sewage infrastructure and water treatment.
The average water use in developing countries, where roughly two-thirds of humanity resides, is measured in liters per person per day (Average Daily Water Usage).
(In a show of things to come, no doubt, the four million residents of prosperous metropolitan Cape Town, South Africa, found themselves restricted in February 2018 to just 13 gallons of water per person per day as authorities tried to keep the city from becoming the “first modern major city in the world to completely run [out of water],” Time magazine reported).
Americans today cannot continue their indefensible per capita consumption of water if tomorrow’s adults—today’s children—are to live a 1st World existence.
Start now with the change-out of your toilets, faucets and showerheads. Replace them with ultra water-efficient versions (Switch to High-Efficiency Plumbing Fixtures to Save Water, Energy, and Money).
In some communities, the local water department is more than willing to replace old toilets with low-flush varieties for no cost. It’s cheaper than adding new water treatment capacity. Check it out: NYC’s Toilet Replacement Program.
Look into other relatively inexpensive, easy to install options for further water savings (Eartheasy’s Water Conservation Products).
Tankless water heaters may—or may not—qualify. There are pluses and minuses ecologically. Learn more about it.
Re-imagine your lawn. Can it be landscaped to slow the run-off of rain, allowing more time for the ground to absorb the bounty?
Get away from designer grasses that require regular watering, fertilization and treatment with pesticides and herbicides. The chemicals end-up in the local water supply and, eventually, in you and your loved-ones.
Xeriscape the lawn with natural ground cover that is drought resistant and doesn’t require chemical upkeep.
Take a look at the possibilities: “5 Fundamentals of Xeriscape” and “Xeriscaping Basics: Landscaping Strategies That Save Water.”
Think about “re-foresting” your lawn in ways that add curb appeal and property value, fight global warming, retain ground water, muffle sound and lower heating and air-conditioning costs (A Call for Backyard Diversity).
Save the water and its cost. Save the expense of grass-lawn upkeep. Set a new standard for future generations.
When it rains, catch, retain and use the free water for your own purposes (ARCSA).
Everything you do with that heaven-sent resource is water you don’t have to draw from the local reservoir, paying for it as you go.
Make a fish-pond. Use it with greywater (see below) from the sinks, showers and tubs to flush toilets. Start with rain-barrels (Rain Barrels). Go big with full-scale catchwater guttering and below-ground cisterns.
Make sure your state or county doesn’t forbid catchwater systems (Is Collecting Rainwater Legal in Your State?). Rainfall is so important to dwindling municipal water supplies in some areas that a growing number of jurisdictions want nothing impeding runoff.
Do what you can to get society out of the steam-generated electricity business as quickly as possible.
It is reputed to be the biggest consumer of fresh water in America (though there are other competitors for that title. See ”Waterless Toilets” and “Smarter Agriculture” below).
A typical coal-fired electric power plant uses 2.2 billion gallons of water annually to make the steam that drives the electromagnetic turbines that make the electricity.
Nuclear plants use even more, much of it to damp down the build-up of heat in depleted fuel rods.
Neither rooftop solar systems nor wind turbines need water to make electricity. And they don’t pollute. And they are cheaper to build and operate long-term.
Solve a lot of hard, unnerving problems; take water out of the electricity equation, start demanding the far smarter alternatives to the electricity consumers now buy.
The ways and means are the same as those solutions to the problems of fossil fuel use previously noted…
It’s said that steam-generated electricity is the biggest consumer of fresh water in the U.S., but no one is totaling the vast volumes of fresh water tied-up in sewer pipes beneath every sizeable city in the country—all of it dedicated to transporting crap and urine.
What a perverted use for so precious a commodity.
Turn some of America’s vaunted technological innovation to smarter ways to deal with human excrement.
A big historical transition can happen quickly if consumers signal acceptance of smarter processes (Incinolet Electric Incinerating Toilet).
The possibilities and entrepreneurial opportunities are boundless. On-site sewage treatment toilets or appliances for home and business would emerge; fresh water supplies would swell as if by magic.
No such innovations are yet out there in the marketplace, but they could make their appearance quickly with a little consumer demand.
Start lobbying (sample letter, contacts and addresses available upon request) for the technology with overtures to the National Association of Conservation Districts and the National Groundwater Association.
Waterless toilets are exciting market innovations just waiting for consumers to pump life into them.
Captured and re-used “grey water” from sinks, showers, washing machines and tubs would save a great deal of the potable water currently produced by municipal, tax-funded water treatment facilities (Greywater Action).
Adopted on a broad scale, greywater systems would eliminate the need for a lot of treatment capacity, reducing taxes now collected for the purpose.
While greywater is not drinkable, it is perfectly adequate for watering lawns and gardens and flushing toilets. Learn more about the possibilities (Waterwise Group).
De-salted sea water has already begun to compensate for dwindling fresh water stocks in countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and cities like Jerusalem, Tampa and Los Angeles. In other words, places like those would already be drying up and declining if not for the stop-gap measure of desalinization (Is Desalination the Answer to Water Shortages?).
There are two-sides to that coin.
One side reads, “Thank God the technology is available”; the other side notes this: “You should have conserved the fresh water when you had it!”
Unfortunately, there are major environmental repercussions associated with desalinization plants.
- They are electricity-hogs, a trade-off of potable water for fossil fuel and/or nuclear waste, notes Michael Webber, Deputy Director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas. Aside from the electricity-generation waste desalination produces, the energy requirements of the process put consumers at the mercy of rate increases, Webber points out.
- It uses a great deal of fresh water to make fresh water. Eighty-five percent of conventional electricity plants generate electricity with steam-powered turbines. That means endless supplies of water to feed the technology. Make water in one place, use it up in another. If not a wash, it’s close.
- It produces a heavy noxious brine of concentrated salt and assorted ocean pollutants that is discharged back into the sea, creating dead-zones and altering deep ocean currents as the brine sinks.
- Rising seas will cut short the useful life of desalination systems sited near shore just above present-day sea-level.
Put it all together, and desalination is a high-priced last-ditch effort to sustain occupancy on ground no longer habitable by large populations.
The general consensus is that agriculture consumes roughly 80 percent of U.S. water supply.
Here, too, there is much extravagance and recklessness with water use not seen in most of the rest of the world (Farms Waste Much of World’s Water).
Consumers can have an impact here by pushing back against water-hogs with boycotts and other market-shaking actions (Water Smart Agriculture & Vote Smart Interest Groups). Get familiar with the issue.
Shopping with local farm-to-table organic, water-conscious food sources is one way to exhibit consumer awareness of the subject (Best management practices — Water Conservation).
Use every opportunity to express your will on the issue (Wasteful Water Use). Big Agriculture reads the signs like every other successful industry. Don’t be bashful. Big-Ag is getting in trouble with water availability and is ripe to be reshaped and re-oriented. Help give it reason to do so.
Saving Sea Water
As of 2015, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) counted 150 major “dead zones” in the world’s oceans, places where nothing can live because the oxygen is depleted from the water and the toxins are too poisonous.
Among those dead zones is the one in the Gulf of Mexico—4,000 square miles in size—created by the mix of fertilizers, plastics, oils and other chemicals washed off the land-area of 31 states and two Canadian provinces into the mighty Mississippi River.
Add to the dead zones the plastic trash, oil and chemicals of the Great Pacific Garbage Gyre and its equivalent in other quadrants of the globe.
Throw in the increasing temperature and acidity level of the open oceans caused by global warming, and their fate grows increasingly disturbing.
Yes, fresh water is most immediately important to people, but the oceans—70 percent of the surface of the planet—are collectively the mother to everything else.
If today’s adults—the last environmental saviors—are going to make lifestyle changes to conserve potable water, we can’t stop there.
Water is water, a little saltier in some places than others, but it is all vital to life on Earth.
One way or the other, consumers of old and consumers of the here-and-now brought these water problems on themselves.
Now, the last environmental saviors are left with fixing the mess we all caused. Let’s do it and quit wringing our hands!
Check out the rest of the “Consumer Solutions to the 7 Deadly Sins of Ecological Destruction” series now:
- An Introduction to… The 7 Deadly Sins of Ecological Destruction
- Solution to Sin #1: Deforestation
- Solution to Sin #2: Coal
- Solution to Sin #3: Oil-based fuels
- Solution to Sin #4: Natural gas
- Solution to Sin #5: Nuclear electricity
- Solution to Sin #6: Chemical waste
- Solution to Sin #7: Water loss & contamination