Instead of energy, the next century’s wars will likely be fought over access to water. Here are three strategies that could ward off the coming global water crisis.
More than 750 million people around the world already lack access to clean drinking water. Although Planet Earth is home to a lot of fresh water, it isn’t evenly distributed. While people in countries like the U.S. use fresh water to flush the toilet and water their inedible lawns, those in other nations must walk miles to draw water from rivers and lakes that are often contaminated.
Human-accelerated climate change has only compounded the existing problem by making drought, flood, and extreme heat the norm. As weather patterns change, regions that relied on heavy snow pack to replenish fresh water reservoirs are seeing resources dwindle. Assuming we can’t stop the effects of climate change, it’s time for humanity to find another way to quench its thirst…and fast. Here are a few of the most promising ideas in the works.
The easiest and most obvious way to avoid a water crisis is to stop wasting what little we have left. The world’s population is growing by about 80 million people a year, implying increased freshwater demand of about 64 billion cubic meters a year. Unfortunately most of what we use, especially in the developed world, is wasted. Inefficient appliances like faucets, dishwashers, washing machines, toilets, and sprinklers sends perfectly good water down the drain for no reason. Self-conservation is effective, but most of us struggle to be consistent. Upgrading to WaterSense labeled appliances makes it easy to conserve automatically without sacrificing convenience or water pressure.
Like stranded sailors when the water bottle runs dry, many have started to eyeball the ocean as a potential source of drinking water. As it is, the high salt content of ocean water would kill us, but what if there were a way to remove the salt while leaving the water behind? This is the goal of the growing desalination industry.
As I wrote recently for EarthTechling, desalination technology, once considered far too costly and time-consuming, has made incredible advances over the past few years. Israel’s Water Authority has been able to reduce the amount of water pumped from the nation’s main source, the Sea of Galilee, by more than half due to above- average rain and higher use of desalination plants.
The Victorian Desalination Plant, located on Australia’s Bass Coast, is a rainfall-independent source of water capable of supplying up to 150 billion liters a year. Recently, solar and even wind-powered desalination processes have crept onto the scene, offering a low impact way to turn brine into drinking water.
It’s easy to recycle cans and cardboard, but what about water? Before you get too grossed out, it’s important to mention that there are several different types of waste water, and just as many different ways to recycle it. Greywater is household wastewater from sinks, showers, tubs and washing machines that has never come into contact with feces or passed through a toilet. Black water is sewage and much more difficult to recycle properly (although it can be done).
Water recycling at home can be as simple as using a bucket to prevent greywater from escaping down the drain during your shower. There are also in-home recycling systems that can automatically repurpose water from sinks to flush the toilet or water the lawn. In countries like India, where water shortages are already pretty bad, water recycling has become mandatory.
Image: Bert Kaufmann