March 14, 2008

Water Water Everywhere, And Not A Drop To Drink

Everyday I wade through hundreds of news articles about the harm we are causing through carbon emissions and unregulated pollution. Companies are racing to find a way to scrub power plants, create low emissions vehicles, and develop home-use green products. While these are all very necessary and progressive ideas, one area of conservation gets little attention, and it may be the one resource we need to protect the most; safe, clean drinking water. Of all the water on Earth only 0.7672% makes up the total pool from which we can take our drinking water. That's only 2,548,339 cubic miles of water (which sounds like a big number but it isn't)!

The small sphere on the left represents ALL water found on planet Earth. Now imagine taking less than 1% from that sphere and that is all the water that is available for drinking (and we can't create water so this is a fixed number).

So are we really in that much trouble? I know when I turn my faucet on water will continue to flow indefinitely until I turn it off. If there was such a shortage surely the government would restrict my water usage, right?

Unfortunately no, the government has done little to mitigate our dwindling water supplies and doesn't look to be doing anything about it in the future. Large factories are dumping megatonnes of pollution a year into our rivers and lakes and it is starting to take a toll. Just this week reports about hormone and drug levels in public drinking water have raised the alarm to our water quality. Fish, a great biomarker for effects of water pollution, are now being born hermaphrodites in our polluted rivers and lakes. We are all concerned about genetic manipulation in the lab, but look out in nature and we are doing much worse. All of the intersexed fish have been traced back to pollution from our industry byproducts.

And pollution isn't the only problem in our water, we just plain aren't conserving enough. Atlanta may run dry in the next 10 years and other nations around the world are beginning to struggle as well. Ghana is struggling with not only a water shortage, but also with pollution in the few safe drinking reservoirs the country has. The government has taken some blame but has also rightly put the responsibility to conserve back on the citizens.

China recently doubled its drinking water shortage statistics from 2.43 million to 5.9 million people who do not have access to clean drinking water. From Feb 23 to 28 the number of livestock without sufficient drinking water jumped from 1.89 million to 5.67 million. These are unbelievably high numbers and only highlight the growing worldwide trend.

Pakistan's hydroelectric reservoirs are drying up and several are running at "dead level". Expanding nuclear power seems to be the only solution for Pakistan at this late stage.

On a brighter note, North Carolina Governor Mike Easley has started a three-pronged attack to alleviate water shortages and pollution problems in his state. He says "North Carolinians should understand that the days when water could be used without an eye on the meter and without repercussions for wasting it are over."

Maybe I just worry too much about the water supply (to Czechs water pollution is the biggest issue, go motherland!, but that fact is that we are running out of clean water and soon we may have to turn to the ocean to provide us with clean water. The Netherlands have already started to experiment with getting clean water from the ocean by using some innovative windmill technology. This is all fine, but pollution reduction and conservation must work hand in hand if we are to have clean, CHEAP drinking water for decades to come.

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