Last week I went lecture titled “Our Water, Our Health” that explored the current state of water on our planet. Sandra Steinberger, biologist, environmentalist, and activist, explained the way water is distributed on Earth, and shared some of her concerns about the ways its changing.
Everyone knows the basics – water is essential for life, and 2/3 of our planet is covered by it. There’s some exciting indications that there might be H2O on Mars, which would provide the possibility of extraterrestrial life. But on our planet, the trouble with water is our access to it. 98% of our water is salt water, making it unuseful for sustaining life – we can’t drink it. Another 1% is frozen in glaciers, rendering it inaccessible. And the remaining 1% is what’s left for the nearly 7 billion of us to drink, plus use for an assortment of other processes – farming, agriculture, washing, etc. 1% isn’t a whole lot to begin with, but the real trouble, as Dr. Steinberger pointed out, is that 1% is growing even smaller due to three emerging threats to our water:
1) Climate Change – As the Earth heats up (which is undeniably happening, as Obama pointed out to the joy of environmentalists Monday), water is siphoned into the atmosphere through increased rates of evaporation, and not all of it rains back down to us – instead we’re left with higher humidity. Additionally, glaciers melt and run into the ocean, becoming irretrievable and contributing to the rising ocean levels.
2) Chemical contamination – Every year something like 800 chemicals are introduced. Most of these aren’t tested for toxicity, yet many of them end up in our water. Both types of water, ground and surface, become contaminated in a number of ways and pose specific challenges. Ground water, which is harvested from wells, is generally more protected but is harder to decontaminate. Surface water, like lakes and rivers, provide 60% of national drinking water. For obvious reasons, surface water becomes easily contaminated and is somewhat easier to clean, but it also spreads much more quickly, as rivers and lakes have quicker currents.
To get an idea of how widespread chemical contamination of water is, consider this: 10% of water in the U.S. is not up to standard, and our standards aren’t even very high – small amounts of all sorts of chemicals are actually permitted. On average, U.S. citizens use 90 gallons of water every day – not just for drinking, but for showering, washing, cleaning, etc. If we assume equal spread, that means every day the average person in the U.S. is exposed to 9 gallons of potentially toxic H2O. Of course, the spread isn’t equal, and some of us end up with much higher amounts.
3) Disappearance of H2O – This last one is the newest threat to our water supply, due to a procedure called fracking. I’m planning a more detailed post on fracking, so for now I’ll give the basics – fracking is the process of smashing bedrock deep in the Earth using water, in order to release methane vapor fossils, which can be used as energy. The problem is, when the water is sent deep into the shell of the Earth, it doesn’t come back up – it’s essentially lost, never to be evaporated, condensed, or precipitated again.
Why should we care?
The population is getting bigger. The water supply is getting smaller. Dr. Steinberger argued that eventually, we’ll go to war over water. Probable? I’m not totally convinced. But possible? It might just be.
Would love to hear your thoughts, feel free to share below!
Nice blog. And a great topic. They’ve been worried about the freshwater supply in the permaculture and alternative therapies communities for some time. Daniel Vitalis is a leading champion in the area of pure water and human health (you can YouTube him). Also, the author of the Humannure Handbook (which is free to view online) posits that sewer treated water doesn’t have an infinite treatment cycle – seriously diminishing returns each cycle with more polluted water. What I find scary is the corporate control of water supplies – and it’s growing and ratcheting up its stranglehold on consumers. They just put restrictions on rainwater harvesting in Oregon, probably the closest thing to true Gaia in our country.
Thanks, Rich! Interesting to consider how this plays into your work. Thanks for suggesting resources – will definitely check them out!
Nick, I keep looking for the statue in Oregon law regarding restrictions on rainwater harvesting, and I keep coming up with only local ordinances on not hoarding water to create your own ponds (thus keeping water away from aquifers and potable water sources). The only place where I’m reading about this is NaturalNews.com, which is rife with all sorts of outright lies and misinformation. (I mean, seriously, the Newtown, CT, shootings were a “false flag” attack?) And even that article is talking about the man who kept collecting water for his private ponds, even after he was told not to for very good reasons.
So, can you supply me with a citation about Oregon? Thanks.
I found this from the National Council on State Legislatures: http://www.ncsl.org/issues-research/env-res/rainwater-harvesting.aspx#or
No mention of outright restrictions on rainwater. If anything, the statues mention regulations to encourage rainwater reclamation in new buildings. Perhaps I need to do more research?