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.

NYTIMES Mag: “The Future is Drying Up”

The New York Times Sunday Magazine is one of the few things I still read in print. Something about the weekend and a 5,000+ word cover story makes for a perfect combo.

The West is the fastest-growing part of the country. It’s also the driest. And climate change could be making matters much, much worse….

Scientists sometimes refer to the effect a hotter world will have on this country’s fresh water as the other water problem, because global warming more commonly evokes the specter of rising oceans submerging our great coastal cities. By comparison, the steady decrease in mountain snowpack — the loss of the deep accumulation of high-altitude winter snow that melts each spring to provide the American West with most of its water — seems to be a more modest worry. But not all researchers agree with this ranking of dangers

This week’s cover story was fascinating, and what stood out for me was the great cost of inaction, but also the exciting challenge of a big problem that has to be solved.