Category Archives: water

Waterworld?

I am relieved to know that I am not the only person worried about water resources on our lovely planet. I was beginning to feel that I was being a weird lefty liberal once again, which is not how I see myself, but, I have been told, is how I may be perceived by others. Writing in the New York Times on April 8th, Thomas L. Friedman writes in his op-ed column The Other Arab Spring that he sees a tie-in between climate change and political instability like we are experiencing in Northern Africa and the Middle East.
He points out that Yemen is the first country in the world expected to run out of water.
He says, “The Arab awakening was driven not only by political and economic stresses, but, less visibly, by environmental, population and climate stress as well.”
He goes on to say, “If climate projections stay on their current path, the drought situation in North Africa and the Middle East is going to get progressively worse…”
“12 of 15 of the world’s most water-starved countries according to Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, the executive director of the Institute for Policy, Research and Development in London, writing in the Beirut Daily Star in February are (no real surprise) in the Middle East:
Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Israel, Palestine.
He ends with this, “While you may not be interested in climate change, climate change is interested in you.
So here for your enjoyment is a picture of our earth as it is today:
And here is a picture of the moon, which is exactly how the earth will look without water, except smaller:

How Likely Are Water Wars?

I am not the only person on the planet who worries about water shortages. I have been doing some reading online and there are many reports about the worldwide shortage of fresh water resources. Scientific American reports about it and CNN, and Web of Creation (which may not sound quite as good as the other two sources). Some places never had great reserves of fresh water, places that are obvious like deserts and interior areas of Africa which only have rain for a part of the year and may have droughts that last for several years. We know the American Southwest also is a desert or near desert climate and lacks fresh water resources. If an area is unpopulated the lack of fresh water is not a problem (nature adapts), but as we have spread into areas where fresh water is scarcer, which people have done all over the world, water supplies in these areas become more problematic. Redirecting rivers will no longer do it for us.
The lack of water can mean a lack of food for obvious reason. Crops do not grow without water. When populations try to grow food in low rain or snow environments they must irrigate. To irrigate one takes groundwater and exposes it on top of the earth. It will evaporate and fall again as precipitation, but perhaps not in the same area where it evaporated. It takes 1 ton of water to grow 1 ton of wheat, which makes wheat a water-costly food, says BBC News. Many other foods do not require as much water but do not have the appeal of wheat. We may find ourselves having to get used to things like soybeans. Of course meat is also a very water-costly food.
Irrigation, farming, and raising farm animals are also activities that increase the pollution of fresh water. Manufacturing waste pollutes water, or air and therefore water. Retrieving and using fossil fuels also pollutes water in all kinds of ways. Of course, polluted water cannot be used to quench thirst without negative outcomes, including death. Children are especially susceptible to diseases borne in polluted water, especially in poorer countries without water filtration systems and in low-water environments. There are dead water zones even in salt water off many of the coastlines of developed nations worldwide.
Scientists also say that global warming is having an effect on water reserves as snow packs, glaciers and ice caps dwindle in size. The Yellow River in China never used to run dry, then it ran dry for about 15 days a year, and now it is dry for over 200 days a year. It is not the only river that dries up for part of the year when it never did before.
The 10 worst cities in America in terms of available fresh water are not at all surprising. We could almost name them without a list. However, more and more people are moving to these areas. Some populations have grown as much as 20% in the last decade which creates a larger demand for water. They are, as named in an article by Yahoo Finance:
1.       Los Angeles – Major water supply, Colorado River Basin, Pop. 3,831,868
2.       Houston – Major water supply, Jasper Acquifer, 2 Lakes, Pop. 2,257,926
3.       Phoenix – Major water supply, Colorado River Basin, Pop. 1,593,659
4.       San Antonio – Major water supply – Groundwater – Pop. 1,373,668
5.       San Francisco Bay Area – Major water supply, Various, Lake Hetch Hetchy – Pop. Over 1.5m
6.       Fort Worth – Major water supply, Multiple – Pop. 727,577
7.       Las Vegas – Major water supply, Lake Mead/Colorado River – Pop. 567,000
8.       Tucson – Major water supply, Local ground water – Pop. 543,000
9.       Atlanta – Major water supply – Lake Lanier, Ga – Pop. 540,922
10.     Orlando – Major water supply, Floridan Aquifer – Pop. 235,860
There are spots around the world with water problems similar to these problems of United States cities or some areas with even more pressing needs for fresh water. Will those of us with plentiful supplies of fresh water be expected to share? Will companies privatize our water supplies and sell them to us for big bucks? Will water resources belong to public utilities which give people with plentiful water no choice about sharing water; water might essentially be sold down the grid like electricity. Will these water resources be distributed equally or go to the highest bidder? Will some of us take luxurious showers while others die of thirst? Oh, we already do this! Will we continue to develop wetlands out of existence although we know how much they contribute to a healthy water cycle? Will we need a Global Water Management Agency? How happy would privileged people be about this? Oh, the protests! Will we learn to control the weather so it will rain where and when we need it to? We can’t even desalinate the oceans because we have nowhere to put the brine that is produced as a side product.

How many years of fresh water remain on our beleaguered little planet? What things can we do now to tip the fresh water resources in our favor? Humans are the only species on earth which can manage our water resources. Will we actually do any of those things unless laws are passed to force greater respect for fresh water resources, which for economic reasons, seems unlikely? Perhaps we could all go live in low water areas and leave the great water zones pristine. Then we can all have our water piped in. Humans, for all our capacity to evaluate and recognize problems before they become crises, seem unable to react quickly to take steps to lessen the impact of these problems. It could be a fatal flaw.