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Quenching Humans' Thirst: Depleting our water supply

10 Aug. 2011 Posted by Hannah Mich in water supply, Great Lakes shrinking, water crisis, water usage
water supply, droughts, water crisis

When I walk throughout my neighborhood in the middle of the hottest and usually driest months of July and August, I find that I am dodging the water shooting from sprinklers and jumping over puddles of water on sidewalks. Because clean water is so accessible to us, we consequently tend to be wasteful with its uses like leaving sprinklers on too long, creating a saturated yard and those sidewalk puddles. In our ignorance, we are taking advantage of a natural substance – water- without any regards to its limitations.

It is amazing how often I hear about the limitations or shortages of oil, money, retirement funds and jobs in the media. And how infrequently I hear about the limitations or shortages of our water supply, at least not at a global level. Instead we get snippets of news about a drought in Texas, Australia or Africa. When you think of a drought though, you think of low precipitation in a particular area that is temporary, right? In no way do most people connect these droughts to other bits of information, leading to the thought that the world’s fresh water supply is shrinking.

So let us start with some facts and then we will connect them together and discuss some possible solutions.

1. The Southwest has had widespread droughts in 2002, 2003, 2007 and 2009
2. California and Florida suffer from a water supply that is quickly shrinking
3. Snow caps and glaciers are melting at a record pace
4. Australia’s 30-year dry spell
5. According to the U.S. Geological Survey the U.S. used 410,000 million gals of water per day in 2005
6. The Colorado River, Lake Mead and the Great Lakes are shrinking

Although low precipitation does explain some of these results, it is much more complex than that. So what else contributes to the loss of our water supply?

1. Increase in temperatures and quicker water evaporation
2. Overpopulated areas, taxing the water supply
3. Sprawl/suburbs, which uses 70% of water on landscape [southwestern states]
4. Agriculture and industrial usage [like irrigation and natural gas industry]
5. Clearing Land or land cover change
6. Pavement and other structures preventing proper water runoff and re-absorption
7. Dams, dikes and water diversions
8. Dumping treated waste water into the ocean
9. Inefficient and wasteful water usage

We- the human race- place significant strain on water resources, and therefore we need to be part of the solution. The solutions we come up with are not only for our own long-term benefits but are also imperative to the survival of whole ecosystems. The two general ways of looking at possible solutions are to decrease demand and increase supply.

In many areas decreasing demand may come in the form of limiting water use on landscapes and yards. You may even come across eco-friendly tips that mention taking shorter showers. However, I highly doubt shorter showers will save us from a water shortage. Others are more extreme in thinking the growth of the world’s population needs to be slowed down.

Increasing supply, on the other hand, may include capturing and using storm water, re-using treated wastewater for irrigation, and removing the salt from seawater for use, which is called seawater desalination.

Either way you look at it, more awareness needs to be made about our declining water supply. We can live without oil and retirement funds, we cannot live without water and it may take a combination of solutions to maintain adequate water for the growing world population.

Call To Action: 

Be more conservative with your water usage
Look up more information on http://www.usgs.gov/water/
Collect and use rainwater

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References: 

NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory; Water Levels of the Great Lakes; 2011
http://www.glerl.noaa.gov/pubs/brochures/lakelevels/lakelevels.pdf

“Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”; Water, Climate Change, and Sustainability in the Southwest; Glen M. MacDonald; December 2010
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3003116/pdf/pnas.200909651.pdf

“The Philosophical Transactions of Royal Society B”; Land Cover Change and Water Vapour Flows: Learning from Australia; Line Gordon, et al.; November 2003
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1693281/pdf/14728792.pdf

U.S. Geological Survey; Water Use 2005
http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2009/3098/pdf/2009-3098.pdf

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