Maybe you’re like me and all your life you thought the water cycle you learned as a kid in science meant that water just renews; that those who live where they don’t have good access to water just need to have someone help them drill wells, and that those who live where they have special water regulations (like in deserts), well, that sucks.
If you are like me in that way, then I’m sorry, because apparently, we were really wrong.
A Brief Overview of the Water Crisis
The aquifers (made of permeable rocks, sandstone, and other porous materials – helpful illustrations here) we rely on as water sources are naturally replenished at a much slower rate than we are using them.
Depending on permeability, aquifers can be recharged anywhere from 50 feet per year to 50 inches per century… Confined aquifers can never naturally refill again because they’re trapped in impermeable rock.
Even if it’s not as simple as we thought, though, the majority of the planet is covered in water, right? How bad could it be?
I was surprised to learn that although 71% of Earth’s surface is water, 97% of that is saltwater and 2% is frozen in ice caps and glaciers, leaving only 1% available for us to use as we’re accustomed.
According to the Netflix series “Explained“, if things continue as they are, by 2040, most of the world won’t have enough water to meet demand year-round.
Here are some of the cities about to run out of clean drinking water. One of them, El Paso, is somewhere we visit almost every year for part of the winter.
Part of the problem is that we treat water like an infinite supply, so it’s not priced into the cost of products the way it should be. We haven’t had a proper respect for this resource that we literally can’t live without.
- 3.6% of the 1% of water is used in households for drinking, cooking, cleaning, etc.
- 4.4% of the 1% of water is used in factories and manufacturing
- and a whopping 92% is used in agriculture!
What’s causing our impending water problem?
There are a myriad of things that contribute to the water crisis we’re facing:
- not renewing fast enough
- desalination costs (make it harder to harness ocean water, though costs are getting better, but there is still the issue of what to do with the byproduct of desalination)
- consumption (poor use of resources)
- doing things in stupid places (it just doesn’t make sense to grow water-intensive crops in deserts, for example)
- not properly valuing water (there’s no incentive to develop better use practices)
- possibly climate change
- population growth
What can we do to help solve the water crisis?
There are things we can do individually to help conserve water, but there are also things we can encourage our cities and governments to do.
- recycle waste water – Israel is good at this
- lower desalination costs – Israel is good at this
- fix leaky pipes (“About 14-18% of water treated in the United States is wasted through aging and damaged infrastructure, as well as faulty meters.” 2.1 trillion gallons of water are lost from leaky pipes every year!)
- change the way we water things
- sensible crops (grow things where they make the most sense!)
- injection wells
- use reusable water bottles and portable water bottle filters where needed (stop using bottled water – that’s unnecessary production!)
- rainwater harvesting
- raingardens (filtered by vegetation as opposed to monoculture)
- reuse water where it makes sense (there are things that could be invented to help with this)
- conserve water – just use less
- decrease consumption in general (buy used – less water used in production)
- reduce food waste – 1/3 of food is thrown away, and what was it that used up the vast majority of our water again? oh yeah, agriculture.
- eat less water-intensive foods – shelled nuts and red meat, for example (how eating meat affects your water footprint)
My Personal Feelings about This Topic
I honestly came away from my research feeling like yes, this is a problem, but only if everyone ignores it.
Looking at the numbers, it seems pretty obvious on the surface that 2 things would make the biggest impact on these issues:
- if someone came up with a good solution for using ocean water
- if we did something about the agricultural use of water
I’m happy that we already eat almost no meat at home, and that we also rarely waste food.
I also think it’s very important for us to be aware of this issue and respect water for what it is – a life-giving resource we all need.