Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Water: Is the glass half empty or half full?

Energy
Water: Is the glass half empty or half full?

David Suzuki

We can’t live without water. We need it to stay hydrated and grow food. We use it to generate electricity. Water is in us and all around us. It makes up about 65 per cent of our bodies. Thanks to the hydrologic cycle, it circulates constantly, as liquid, gas, and solid, evaporating from oceans and fresh water, moving through air, raining onto Earth, flowing through plants and animals, into the ground, and back to the oceans through rivers, streams and sewage outflows.
 
Water covers 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, but 97.5 per cent is saltwater. Of the 2.5 percent that’s fresh, 68.7 percent is locked in the ice and snow of the Arctic, Antarctic and mountains, leaving about one per cent for our use. More than a billion people lack adequate access to clean water.
 
Just as human activity is upsetting Earth’s carbon cycle, our actions are altering the water cycle. Water is our most precious resource, but we waste it, just as we waste other resources, including oil and gas. When we use so much that the system can’t renew itself, we create shortages and drought. When we pollute it, we make matters worse.
 
More than a billion people in the world survive on just five litres a day, less than the amount of a typical North American toilet flush. The average Canadian uses 335 litres a day, more than double the average for similar industrialized countries. In fact, we use more in Canada than in any country except the U.S.
 
As individuals, we can reduce consumption and find ways to use water more efficiently. We also have to look at industrial use. Energy generation, including what’s required to extract fuels, is straining water resources more every day. According to a report on the EcoWatch website, “fracking” is particularly worrisome. This process involves injecting massive amounts of water and chemicals into the ground at high pressure to fracture underground shale and release gas deposits.
 
Each frack can use up to 30-million litres of water, and a well can be “fracked” as many as 18 times. According to EcoWatch, “The water, usually drawn from natural resources such as lakes and rivers, is unrecoverable once it’s blasted into the earth, and out of the water cycle for good.”
 
With record high temperatures and widespread drought in the U.S., oil and gas drillers and the energy industry have to compete with farmers for scarce water. There, the fastest-growing use of fresh water is by coal, nuclear and natural gas power plants, according to a report by the River Network. Our reliance on fossil fuels is also contributing to global warming, making water even more scarce, as glaciers melt, rivers dry up and droughts become increasingly common.
 
Beyond reducing individual use, one of our top priorities must be to move from fossil fuels to energy that has fewer detrimental effects on water supplies and fewer environmental impacts overall.
 
We can also get creative. A study in the journal Science (referenced in the EcoWatch article), Taking the ‘Waste’ Out of ‘Wastewater’ for Human Water Security and Ecosystem Sustainability, concludes that we can employ substitution, regeneration, and reduction to conserve water.
 
Substitution involves using low-quality water instead of high-quality for many activities, such as sprinkling a garden with collected rainwater rather than drinkable tap water. In Hong Kong, most residents use seawater for toilets. Regeneration means treating low-quality water to make it usable rather than flushing it away. Using a waste-stabilization pond, some households could transform sewage into water for irrigation. Wastewater can also be treated and recycled for large-scale uses. People can reduce usage in many ways, from installing low-flow plumbing to repairing leaks in infrastructure.
 
We can also keep water clean and plentiful by protecting and preserving our valuable natural capital, often for less money! Instead of spending $8 billion for a water-treatment plant, New York City officials spent $1 billion to buy land and protect habitat that filters and stores water.
 
In Canada, we often take water for granted. With increasing pressure on the availability and cleanliness of our water, we have to start paying closer attention to what we do with it.

----------
 
Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Editorial and Communications Specialist Ian Hanington.
 
Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.
 
For more insights from David Suzuki, read Everything Under the Sun (Greystone Books/David Suzuki Foundation), by David Suzuki and Ian Hanington, now available in bookstores and online.

 

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Researchers on the ICESCAPE mission, funded by NASA, examine melt ponds and their surrounding ice in 2011 to see how changing conditions in the Arctic affect the biological and chemical makeup of the ocean. NASA / Flickr

By Alex Kirby

The temperature of the Arctic matters to the entire world: it helps to keep the global climate fairly cool. Scientists now say that by 2035 there could be an end to Arctic sea ice.

Read More Show Less
President Vladimir Putin is seen enjoying the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images

Russia's Health Ministry has given regulatory approval for the world's first COVID-19 vaccine after less than two months of human testing, President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday.

Read More Show Less
A John Deere agricultural tractor sits under a collapsed building following a derecho storm on Aug. 10, 2020 near Franklin Grove, Illinois. Daniel Acker / Getty Images

A powerful series of thunderstorms roared across the Midwest on Monday, downing trees, damaging structures and knocking out power to more than a million people.

Read More Show Less
A scenic view of West Papua. Reza Fakhrudin / Pexels

By Arkilaus Kladit

My name is Arkilaus Kladit. I'm from the Knasaimos-Tehit tribe in South Sorong Regency, West Papua Province, Indonesia. For decades my tribe has been fighting to protect our forests from outsiders who want to log it or clear it for palm oil. For my people, the forest is our mother and our best friend. Everything we need to survive comes from the forest: food, medicines, building materials, and there are many sacred sites in the forest.

Read More Show Less
Everyone overthinks their lives or options every once in a while. Some people, however, can't stop the wheels and halt their train of thoughts. Peter Griffith / Getty Images

By Farah Aqel

Overthinkers are people who are buried in their own obsessive thoughts. Imagine being in a large maze where each turn leads into an even deeper and knottier tangle of catastrophic, distressing events — that is what it feels like to them when they think about the issues that confront them.

Read More Show Less
A newly developed catalyst would transform carbon dioxide from power plants and other sources into ethanol. DWalker44 / E+ / Getty Images

Researchers at the Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory have discovered a cheap, efficient way to convert carbon dioxide into liquid fuel, potentially reducing the amount of new carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Eureka Sound on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic taken by NASA's Operation IceBridge in 2014. NASA / Michael Studinger / Flickr / CC by 2.0

A 4,000-year-old ice shelf in the Canadian Arctic has collapsed into the sea, leaving Canada without any fully intact ice shelves, Reuters reported. The Milne Ice Shelf lost more than 40 percent of its area in just two days at the end of July, said researchers who monitored its collapse.

Read More Show Less