Water, Water everywhere…

drop-of-water[1]While I was in California last week, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of Emergency because of the drought conditions, Californians are seriously concerned about the impact of wildfires; over in West Virginia 300,000 people are affected by tap restrictions following the chemical spill in the Elk River and the company that caused it goes into bankruptcy, most people are concerned about their drinking water. Here in Texas, the invisible effect on the rice growers hasn’t caused the “waves” it should, another year and they’ll be gone, likely for good. For the most part, the drought has just caused people to be grumpy about the state of the lakes for boating and swimming.

What all these miss is the hidden impact of water, it’s hidden uses. For the most part, we simply couldn’t exist as we know it if we continue as we currently are. It’s not about drinking water, leisure activities, and it’s not about growing rice in Texas. What people miss are the industrial uses of water, it’s a key part of almost everything we do, eat and everything we make, and especially what we wear. Here are some interesting statistics.

  • Fresh water makes up less than 3% of all the water on earth
  • 72% of US States are predicting water shortages this year
  • The US uses 400 million gallons of fresh water every day, which is more per person than any other country on earth
  • 41% of the fresh water in the US is used for agriculture
  • It takes nearly 3-gallons of water to make a plastic bottle, for, err, drinking water
  • It takes approximately 3-gallons of water to make a single sheet of paper
  • It takes 10-gallons per hour to power the appliances in your home!
  • Each cob of corn takes nearly 23-gallons; a 2-litre bottle of cola, 132 gallons
  • With all the process involved, washing and making the threads that go in, and washing and dying the material and jeans that come out, it takes nearly 3000 gallons to make a single pair of jeans
  • It takes some 39,000 gallons to make a car

Back in the late 1990’s I spent a lot of time presenting at education and government conferences, mostly on technology. At a number of the conferences I heard speakers talk about “water wars”. They gave example of existing and upcoming conflicts. These discussions, presentations were added to the list of of future issues to research. At the time, the thinking was India vs Pakistan, Africa, and Israel vs Palestine. The 2000 Cochabamba, Bolivia water crisis, turned into a domestic war that eventually bought down the government and shows the risk of continuing down the route of private, commodity path.

In my 2002/3 Trends and Directions presentation, using then available data, I predicted 2/3 of Worlds population will have water shortages by 2050; Consumption tripled in 50-years “ Water wars” are on the way – Iceland/Mexico/Pakistan/India; More refugees created by dams and development than by persecution.

Little did I understand how close to home it would come. While Israel and Palestine signed a recent historic accord, Texas, California and Mexico are still far further apart, with at least an economic water war looming. Meanwhile the fracking industry gleefully point out that watering golf courses uses more water than fracking, they fail to mention we can really afford neither.

This 2006 documentary shows how water is viewed, sought after and how American usage is described as totally unsustainable. It is available in it’s full 76-minute version on YouTube, if you don’t have time to watch the full version, just watch through the last 5-minutes.

Don’t be confused by the arguments about desalination, and the famous no water is wasted, circle of life deceit.  At that time in our history the chances of building enough desalination plants to meet our needs, are minute. The same can be said of the circle of life belief. They advocate/argue that water never really goes away it just recirculates. Even the water that does evaporate comes back somewhere in the form  of rain. Waste water can be treated and returned as claen. The answer on both these depends massively on if the buyer is willing to pay and in the current climate, I say not.

The NY Times has  water as a topic you can track for news, as does Al Jazeera America. Strangely the NY Times has a lot more outward looking articles, Al Jazeera, more inward looking.

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