Meeting global water needs: More than a pipe dream

by Dr Karl Smith, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Every waking hour, I ingest water. Not always in its purest form, but near enough. Energy is important and right now (and rightly so), carbon is capturing headlines. But water is fundamental to our livelihoods.

The UN has designated 22 March World Water Day: “a day to celebrate water”. And why not? Never mind that it’s essential to all life forms. For modern living, it’s a necessity: we need 10 litres of water to make one sheet of paper; 182 litres to make a kilo of plastic. We’re not about to run out of seawater, but what about drinkable freshwater? A glance at the UN’s water statistics reveals the urgency of our situation.

In developing countries, 90% of wastewater flows untreated into water bodies. An estimated 1.8 billion people worldwide drink water contaminated with faeces. By 2030, 47% of the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress.

In 60% of European cities (population > 100,000 people), groundwater is being used faster than it can be replenished. As the primary source of drinking water worldwide, groundwater is vitally important. In fact, groundwater comprises 97% of all global freshwater potentially available for human use (the UN don’t qualify this definition, but one can probably assume that 97% of all drinking water is groundwater – further enlightenment on this is welcome). Moreover, our use of groundwater is increasing by 1-2% per year.

If we look west to the US then we reach California – a drought stricken state with, according to senior water cycle scientist Jay Famiglietti of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, only one year of water left in its reservoirs and rapidly disappearing groundwater.

…(read more).

Global Climate Change
Environment Ethics
Environment Justice

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