World Water Day

It’s World Water Day today March 22nd, 2008.

I was in the car on Friday and listened to NPR’s Science Friday where the topic was “water”. One of the guests on the show was Lester R. Brown, the author of Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization – which can be read free online:

“Plan B 3.0 is a comprehensive plan for reversing the trends that are fast undermining our future. Its four overriding goals are to stabilize climate, stabilize population, eradicate poverty, and restore the earth’s damaged ecosystems,” says Brown. “Failure to reach any one of these goals will likely mean failure to reach the others as well.”

Lester and the other guests brought up a few points that were really interesting to me:

1) Bottled water is having a very negative impact on our water supplies. A single bottle of water requires 4 bottles of water to produce, plus energy to transport it, and the vast majority of the plastic never gets recycled – it simply ends up in a landfill. I stopped drinking bottled water a few years ago and with the exception of this recent drugs-in-the-tap-water , i feel like tap water is safer and even tastes better.

2) Our water infrastructure in many populated areas is 100+ years old. New York, for example, has major water-ways/canals/pipes that leak out close to 40% of the water before it arrives at the destination.

3) In California, the transportation of water ( mainly through pipes and pumps ) consumes 15% of the State’s total energy usage.

4) Israel has always been way ahead on water management and irrigation due to smart tech companies and a generally dry climate. One innovative trend that has been happening is to look at water as a factor in other commodities. One such commodity is grain, where Israel has shifted to importing close to 90% of it’s grain since the production of it in Israel required so much water. Only a few decades ago nearly all the grain was produced locally.

5) Water – a bit like oil – isn’t currently allowed to be priced according to market forces here in the US. Energy costs are not factored in, and agricultural subsidies keep the real price artificially low. What that means is that technologies out there for desalination, and cleaning of other”gray” water are still seen as too expensive. It also means infrastructure doesn’t get investment, and other products that use water don’t have true costs associated with them.

Will be interesting to see if this waster issue becomes a hot one in the fall election cycle. I know the NYTIMES Mag cover, “The Future is Drying Up”, back in October 2007 did get a lot of good coverage.

3 thoughts on “World Water Day

  1. Desalination plants have their downsides. They require masses of power to run and they can significantly alter their local natural environment.

    The proposed plant in Sydney – which we need like a hole in the head* – will use enough grid power to cause around 945 thousand tonnes of CO2 output each year. Most of Australia is supplied by coal fired power plants.

    Storm-water purification is by far the most sensible option. What I’d like to see is some cheap small-scale version of that technology that brings it into peoples homes. That way the water tanks that people now have can be used for more than just watering the garden.

    * Sydney has an average of 100 rainy days a year.

  2. @Sam —

    Re: Desalination – Agreed for the most part. It has big energy costs and real toxicity issues with the leftover mess. But let’s say the energy piece can be solved in some areas with a combo of hydro/solar/wind – and the toxic piece also gets dealt with — it still won’t be assessed properly because the larger issue is still artificial pricing of water in the marketplace.

    Re: Storm-water — that makes a ton of sense in areas like Sydney.

  3. World Water Day 2009 has come and gone – and not much attention paid.

    We need great technological advances – but even more we need every single citizen to become aware of the water shortage problem. Not using up so much water might help more in the long run (pun intended).

    Alexa Fleckenstein M.D., physician, author.

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