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When I was in school for horticulture 30 years ago, my soil science teacher said that if we wanted secure jobs, we should go into hydrology. Water would be a big issue in the future. That has come to pass.
The world water supply is in crisis. Climate change, population growth, pollution, scarcity, rising energy costs and waste have cut into our water supply. You can live without food for a while, but you cannot live without water for long. And clean water is a human right. Everyone should have it.
Water scarcity is a global issue
According to the UN, roughly 11% of people in the world do not have access to clean drinking water. That is almost 800 million people! People in developing countries go without while we in North America take water for granted. We take 20 minute showers, let faucets leak and plant water hungry lawns.
Drought threatens hydropower and agriculture as well as the global water supply. Conservation is imperative. I had almost no rain at my house, yet 30 miles up the road saw record rainfall. My well is probably not even 200 feet deep, and it feeds off a shallow water table that creates a seasonal stream. If we don’t have snowpack, that stream does not run. If that stream is dry in spring, my well is in danger.
In New Mexico where I live, we only get about 12” of rain a year, but the last few years have been very dry and hot. You can’t even collect water off the roof if there is no precipitation! If you are lucky enough to catch a rainstorm, you better conserve every drop of it, because you don’t know when you’ll get more.
Flooding and global climate change
We saw excessive flooding with Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. This type of storm is getting to be normal. That is scary! I don’t know that we can build to withstand weather like this, but we can certainly make buildings stronger and put them away from vulnerable areas.
Flooding also contaminates water supplies. Imagine all the dirt, debris, grease and chemicals on a city street. A flood carries it right into the municipal water supply. Seawater damages fisheries, too, not only during flooding, but this will be a concern as sea levels rise.
Water systems and pollution
Pollution is another culprit in the water crisis. Run-off, as in flooding, carries dirt, chemicals, bacteria and viruses into water supplies. We have seen what fracking does. I have some friends who had a farm in Colorado. A gas company bought the land next to theirs. The fracking contaminated their well, making the land useless and unfit for living. This is getting to be all too common. We can’t be ruining what little water we have, while others go without. If you have not watched Gasland, do!
Run-off from Big Ag is ruining water supplies with pesticides that cause neurological and physical health problems. Industrial areas are no better with their toxic by-products. It all ends up in our water!
What can we do?
We can save water at home, but we have no control over the intense storms, flooding and drought that new, unfamiliar weather patterns are creating. We need to think ahead.
Governments need to adapt to our changing environment and put policies in place that address municipal water conservation, increased efficiency during collection and processing, and waste reduction. Building codes need to include water saving and collecting measures. Public buildings should not only save water with the large number of people who work in and visit them, but they would also be setting a good example and educating people about water usage.
Water is not something we can afford to waste or ruin. Governments need to tighten up regulations to limit pollution. They also need to look at worst-case scenarios for floods and drought, and come up with practical emergency plans. I think water will be a big issue in 2013.