“Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink,” from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1797-1798. On Earth, 97 percent of the water is saline, in oceans, seas and saline ground water.
Per Wikipedia, “Fresh water is naturally occurring on the Earth’s surface in ice sheets, ice caps, glaciers, icebergs, ponds, lakes, rivers and streams, and underground as ground water in aquifers and underground streams.” Approximately three percent of Earth’s water is fresh water. It is distributed in icecaps and glaciers (68.7 percent), ground water (in the ground – 30.1 percent), lakes (0.261 percent), rivers (0.006 percent), swamps (0.033 percent) and other (0.9 percent). Yes, it adds up to three percent fresh water.
Fresh water is absolutely essential. All animal (humans included) need water. Humans need potable fresh water (2-5 liters, 2.1-5.3 quarts per day) for their bodies. This does not include hygiene aspects such as bathing and toilet flushing. To get a feeling for the magnitude of the consumption, it is interesting to compare the resident population of downtown Los Angeles, Calif. (8100 people per square mile) with that of Los Alamos, NM (168 people per square mile or 18,312 people). Eliminating lab land, if Los Alamos had the same population density as Los Angeles, 591,300 people would be residing in the county. While it may be a mindless consideration, where would the water come from?
As humanity moves forward, it is predicted that urban areas such as Los Angeles will see continued, significant growth while rural communities such as Los Alamos will remain constant at best. So looking at California can provide some useful insight into the water resource. In California, approximately 51 percent of the water is for environmental uses, 39 percent for agriculture, and 11 percent for urban uses. Environmental uses include water storage, retained in waterways, watering wetlands, creating wildlife habitats, helping fish, and restoring natural flow regimes. So how do you maintain the balance? What if urban demand rises to 11 percent? Does it come from reduces agricultural us or environmental? It is only a two percent shift, so what difference will it make? Think about CO2 in the atmosphere.
Considering the importance of water, perhaps we need recycling beyond what Mother Nature provides through rivers, aquifers, and the atmosphere. California views the reclamation of water for agriculture, industry, and toilet flushing. But for potable use, there is an emerging concern about the risk of environment persistent pharmaceutical pollutants and other constituents. Do you flush unused prescriptions down the toilet?
Looking at the List of 18, several needs seem obvious:
- Energy for desalination as well as increase efficiency in the process.
- Product (water) distribution and waste water collection.
- Infinite recycling, especially focusing on harmful chemicals.
- Better control and neutralization of pharmaceuticals.
- How do we pay for the water?
- How do we regulate water flow, availability, and use, especially across municipal, state, and national borders?
- And the list goes on….