Author: Eric Westerman
We tend to think of water as a renewable resource. To a large extent, that is true. On the macro level, the water cycle does ensure that roughly the same amount of water is always on the planet. However, on micro levels, for individual communities, that is a bit of a fallacy. In a given area, drinking water can be used up by large enough population much faster than it can be renewed, if at all. With a world population that is approaching six billion, that is occurring in many areas across the globe. The same water cycle that ensures a certain level of water also sets an upper limit on its total availability. As populations rise, that means that the water available to each person is always shrinking. On the macro level, we are nowhere near the point where there is not enough water for each person, but on the micro level, this availability bears watching.
The problem is most evident in arid areas. Cities like Phoenix, San Antonio, and Las Vegas are finding their local water supplies dwindling. Irrigation is still very much an option, but at what point does this importation become too expensive and/or the areas that are being irrigated from begin to start hording their own supplies. Another major issue is water rights regarding running water. Some rivers are dammed or diverted for local purposes, thus harming areas that are reliant on this supply downstream. This happened earlier this decade when some running water was dammed up in Nebraska and had a negative effect on Kansas farmers, resulting in a federal lawsuit. Issues like these are just the domestic perspective; it does not even take into account the major issues facing areas like Saharan Africa.
Why is this a big deal? Water truly is the basis for life. Beyond just drinking water, the liquid is necessary for crop production. Everything we eat involves heavy use of water somewhere in its production process. Water is also important to industry. Whether it be to provide electricity, be an actual ingredient in the production process, or to serve as a cooling element, no manufacturing business would get far without large levels of easily available and inexpensive water.
The best solution to this is conservation. Unfortunately, a great amount of our current water use is just waste. There are steps that can be taken on a small scale to use less water for individuals that would add up quickly if taken by the masses. You have heard the clichés, take showers not baths, do not water your lawns unless absolutely necessary, etc, etc, etc. This does not provide the end-all-be-all answer though. Eventually, we will need to find better ways to harness ocean water. Three fours of the earth is covered by water, but salt water is not usable for the majority of our needs (not drinkable, dries out crops, corrodes machinery, etc). Desalinization processes are available to remove the salt and leave the water, but unfortunately these are still too expensive to be used for mass production at this time. Methods will have to be invested that make these processes more efficient, or a completely new invention will need to come along that is much more affordable. If we do not find solutions, they will be forced upon us whether we like it or not.
About the Author
Other informative sites: