Wednesday, July 23, 2014

‘Draining the World Dry’ by Danay Nipar

From page B2 | April 10, 2013 |

We use water when we take showers in the morning, to wash the slumber from our eyes. We use it to wash our hands of the gritty dirt after gardening in humid soil. We use it to hydrate us after a long run.

The bottom line is we use water to sustain us and our way of life. Imagine if the water we use daily vanished and there was no way to replenish it. This scenario is not unrealistic. With increasing amounts of water being pumped from non-renewable underground fresh water resources, there is an increasing likelihood that the world will experience a debilitating fresh water shortage in the future. Therefore, a very pressing problem for my generation and future generations is the conservation of global freshwater resources.

Life is dependent on water, and humans are steadily depleting our fresh water resources. Fresh water is a valuable resource used for mundane activities such as showers and washing dishes, but we use more of this crucial resource than we think. Worldwide only 2 percent of the world’s water is fresh water, and less than 1 percent of that is in liquid state (Otto); meanwhile, a report from the U.S Geological Survey conveys that in 2000, 408 billion gallons of water a day were being withdrawn from the nation’s natural resources. Nationwide we depend on fresh water resources such as large underground wells known as aquifers, and surface water, such as lakes and rivers.

Due to various factors, the state of these freshwater sources has been compromised. An example of this tragedy is the depletion of aquifers. Aquifers are naturally occurring underground sources of freshwater that have been collecting water over thousands of years from wetter earth climates and melting ice sheets (Guru). The aquifers in the United States range from coast to coast, but two of the “principal wells” used most are the California Central Valley aquifer system, and the High Plains. The High Plains aquifer is a mercilessly used source, counting for 23 percent of all water withdrawn for irrigation, public use, and industrial uses (“Estimated”). Water from these sources is pumped out by the millions of gallons a year, meanwhile, replenishing themselves very slowly. If one should be emptied, it could take thousands of years to refill (Little).

Also, aquifers are extremely susceptible to contamination by factors like pesticides and agricultural chemicals. This compromises the water quality and in some cases becomes so extreme that the water is unfit to drink (Guru). The gargantuan amount of water the world uses daily has disastrous affects on surrounding ecosystems. Pumping water from underground sources reduces the amount of water flowing to streams, resulting in a domino effect in the surrounding area. If its flow is diminished, life in a stream may be limited to small micro-invertebrates after it had supported small vertebrates such as fish; moreover, animals that rely on the streams lose habitat and sustenance. Since the life we are accustomed to depends on easily accessible freshwater, the depletion of these resources is a very pressing problem for my generation.

We use a lot of fresh water. So what? Why is this the greatest problem we face? First of all, the water we depend on is underground, yet three quarters of underground water sources are non-renewable (Jackson). Heedless of this horrifying statistic, America continues to pump water from non-renewable resources — 82,600 million gallons pumped yearly in the U.S. to be exact (“Ground Water Use”). Since most of the water we obtain is used to irrigate crops, it is logical to assume that if this vital resource was compromised, so would our food sources.

The world’s growing population demands more food to sustain it; consequently, more livestock need to be fed, more crops need to be grown, and more water needs to be used. If this water supply should fail, our entire way of living would be shattered. We already experience the effects that less ground water has on our lives. In countries across the world, increased populations have reduced the amount of water allowed per person to 264 gallons a year (Brown). To put that number in perspective, an average American household uses 107,000 gallons a year (“How”). We continue to glut ourselves with water at the expense of future generations, yet there are at least one billion people worldwide who do not have access to clean water (Jackson). Some things happening much closer to home are drying wells and dry stream beds.

If too much water has been pumped from an aquifer, it reduces the amount of water saturation in the soil which is providing wells with water. Thus, too much water being pumped too fast can result in a dry well. If we cannot conserve and distribute water efficiently today, what happens when these non-renewable aquifers are drained? The solution to this problem is to conserve our resources, and use them more efficiently.

Such a daunting problem cannot be solved by one person; however, I can do my part to address the problem of freshwater depletion. One of the first actions I can take is to moderate water use around my house. Just flushing the toilet uses three gallons of water, and if we multiply that by how many times a day we use the bathroom, it adds up (“Water Questions”). I can also water my yard or garden at certain times of day and not water if it has rained or will rain. In many homes, outdated appliances are gluttonous hogs, constantly consuming more than necessary. Replacing these with efficient models saves money and water. So many ways to conserve water exist that it should be no problem to lessen my water footprint, but what about the big picture?

There are many programs dedicated to protecting freshwater resources, and they all have ways I can contribute to their cause, whether by donation, subscription, or simply by signing my name. An example is the process of adding my city to the Nature Conservancy’s interactive water source map to help them spread awareness about the depletion of fresh water sources (“Securing”). Another way to support freshwater conservation causes exists on The National Geographic Website. It has an entire page called the National Geographic Action Atlas that is dedicated to support of other individuals attempts at protecting fresh water sources and habitats (“Water Is”). My generation can easily access the Internet, which increases my ability to spread awareness about the threat on our freshwater resources through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. The possibilities are endless.

Thus, a pressing problem for my generation and future generations is the conservation of global freshwater resources. Due to global population growth, there is too much strain on our natural resources, whether water, living space, or food, and the only way to continue a comfortable life on this straining planet is to find ways to conserve them. We cannot consume beyond what can be tolerated. We cannot produce beyond what can be supported, and we cannot ignore problems that will persist until acknowledged. Each of us can contribute to the salvation of the world’s resources if we act now before it is too late.



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