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.
At first glance, you wouldn't think avocados and almonds could harm bees; but a closer look at how these popular crops are produced reveals their potentially detrimental effect on pollinators.
Migratory beekeeping involves trucking millions of bees across the U.S. to pollinate different crops, including avocados and almonds. Timothy Paule II / Pexels / CC0<p>According to <a href="https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/beekeeping-how-to-keep-bees" target="_blank">From the Grapevine</a>, American avocados also fully depend on bees' pollination to produce fruit, so farmers have turned to migratory beekeeping as well to fill the void left by wild populations.</p><p>U.S. farmers have become reliant upon the practice, but migratory beekeeping has been called exploitative and harmful to bees. <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/10/health/avocado-almond-vegan-partner/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a> reported that commercial beekeeping may injure or kill bees and that transporting them to pollinate crops appears to negatively affect their health and lifespan. Because the honeybees are forced to gather pollen and nectar from a single, monoculture crop — the one they've been brought in to pollinate — they are deprived of their normal diet, which is more diverse and nourishing as it's comprised of a variety of pollens and nectars, Scientific American reported.</p><p>Scientific American added how getting shuttled from crop to crop and field to field across the country boomerangs the bees between feast and famine, especially once the blooms they were brought in to fertilize end.</p><p>Plus, the artificial mass influx of bees guarantees spreading viruses, mites and fungi between the insects as they collide in midair and crawl over each other in their hives, Scientific American reported. According to CNN, some researchers argue that this explains why so many bees die each winter, and even why entire hives suddenly die off in a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.</p>
Avocado and almond crops depend on bees for proper pollination. FRANK MERIÑO / Pexels / CC0<p>Salazar and other Columbian beekeepers described "scooping up piles of dead bees" year after year since the avocado and citrus booms began, according to Phys.org. Many have opted to salvage what partial colonies survive and move away from agricultural areas.</p><p>The future of pollinators and the crops they help create is uncertain. According to the United Nations, nearly half of insect pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, risk global extinction, Phys.org reported. Their decline already has cascading consequences for the economy and beyond. Roughly 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops around the world depend on bees and other pollinators for free fertilization services worth billions of dollars, Phys.org noted. Losing wild and native bees could <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wild-bees-crop-shortage-2646849232.html" target="_self">trigger food security issues</a>.</p><p>Salazar, the beekeeper, warned Phys.org, "The bee is a bioindicator. If bees are dying, what other insects beneficial to the environment... are dying?"</p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Australia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. It is home to more than 7% of all the world's plant and animal species, many of which are endemic. One such species, the Pharohylaeus lactiferus bee, was recently rediscovered after spending nearly 100 years out of sight from humans.
Scientists have newly photographed three species of shark that can glow in the dark, according to a study published in Frontiers in Marine Science last month.
- 10 Little-Known Shark Facts - EcoWatch ›
- 4 New Walking Shark Species Discovered - EcoWatch ›
- 5 Incredible Species That Glow in the Dark - EcoWatch ›
FedEx's entire parcel pickup and delivery fleet will become 100 percent electric by 2040, according to a statement released Wednesday. The ambitious plan includes checkpoints, such as aiming for 50 percent electric vehicles by 2025.
- Which Is Worse for the Planet: Beef or Cars? - EcoWatch ›
- Greenhouse Gas Levels Hit Record High Despite Lockdowns, UN ... ›
- 1.8 Billion Tons More Greenhouse Gases Will Be Released, Thanks ... ›