Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Stretching the Water Supply

Here is another post that I wrote for Conscious Lifestyle, now Sparkseed.

Water is everywhere right? Yes and no. Sure, the wondrous liquid surrounds us everywhere we turn, but the vast majority of it is not fresh, drinkable water. Only about 3 percent of the total water on the planet is freshwater, and only a tiny fraction of that 3 percent is actually available to humans. Most freshwater is locked up in ice caps and glaciers. However, the price of water is extraordinarily cheap, and most people use it without a second thought. Environmentalists direly predict that the next world wars will be fought over precious water.

What are some solutions?

Desalination can be used to transform salt water to freshwater. However, this process can only be viably done in coastal areas and is quite expensive, because it takes an enormous amount of energy. Some places, such as the Middle East, are experimenting with desalination. Read more about it at National Geographic.

Cloud seeding is another option. In this procedure, silver nitrate is planted into clouds to promote rain. Today, Texas uses cloud seeding over a third of its area. However, conditions have to be very specific for the process to be effective. Additionally, there are concerns about the chemicals used raining down onto earth, and the fact that artificially producing rain in one area is robbing another area of rainfall. Here's an article about cloud seeding at ABC News.

Withdrawing greater amounts of groundwater may be feasible, but this too has some disadvantages. If the water table becomes too depleted, the ground above it may actually sink down into a depression. By the coast, low levels of groundwater may lead to salt water intrusion, where water from the ocean actually pushes into the groundwater system.

The best strategy? It may be boring and trite, but conserve water! This does not have to be a painful process. Turn off faucets tightly to prevent leaks, install water-saving showerheads and toliets, and don't use sprinklers mindlessly. If you're really feeling adventurous, save leftover water from rinsing dishes to water plants. Small changes can have big impacts in the future.

This image is from the New York State Assembly.

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