Monday, June 22nd, 2009 | Author:  | 53,705 views - starting Aug 9/09

in my previous post, i briefly introduced “the water issue” … water is a necessity, a blessing, a right, a luxury, an indispensable and irreplaceable vital nutrient … and yet, i consider myself ineffably fortunate to have daily, liberal access to clean, abundant, potable water on demand — where i want it, when i want it …

how and why is it that approximately 1.1 billion people in the world (more than 16% of the world’s population; United Nations statistics, 2004) live without free access to clean, sufficient water? … equally horrific is the fact that billions more live without adequate sanitation …

water scarcity and water pollution are harsh realities for more than 50% of the world’s population … for the rest of us who have free access to water and the capacity to regulate our water use, it is  imperative that we respectfully moderate our water consumption … use only what you need

the reality is that overall, fresh water is yet another planetary natural resource that is diminishing, access to which is becoming increasingly more difficult and rare … to make matters worse, world wide demand for fresh water is also on the rise …

global water consumption is doubling every 20 years; a rate twice as rapid as global human population growth … the ecological, social, political, and economic implications and ramifications of this trend are  alarming … if the said trend persists unchanged, global demand for access to freshwater may exceed water availability by 56% …

the concept of water scarcity may be counter-intuitive, especially if you consider that more than 70% of the Earth’s surface is comprised of water (approximately 71% saltwater and 1% freshwater) … however, consider the following …

how can Earth’s water supply be diminishing?

a basic overview of the ecological water cycle:

water cycle 2

compare the above to a basic overview of the urban water cycle:

water cycle urban 4

the amount of water that is “lost” to run off, soil erosion, pollution (e.g., effluent, sewage, chemical-laden agricultural irrigation), treatment plants, and impervious surfaces increases proportionately with the degree of urban development:

source: California Water & Land Use Partnership

source: California Water & Land Use Partnership

source: Natural Resources Conservation Service, US Department of Agriculture

source: Natural Resources Conservation Service, US Department of Agriculture

in the urban water cycle, water is eventually reverted back into the system in various forms … however, when, where, and how the water cycles back are not necessarily or predictably at a time, location, quality, or in a form that can be effectively reused …

worse still, many pollutants cannot be completely or safely removed from sewage, industrial effluent, or run off from urban surfaces (e.g., streets, building roof tops, etc.) and agricultural fields (including livestock feed lots) … this further decreases the safety of available water on a local and regional level … polluted groundwater is a particularly alarming concern …

desalination of salt water is not necessarily a viable — or ideal — solution … most importantly, it does not address or solve the issue that a lot of water is wasted needlessly … moreover, it is energy intensive, ecologically invasive, and costly …

one real solution to the problem is to moderate water use … keep in mind that this responsibility must be shared among the general public, industry, and government …

there are very easy, simple habits you can adopt to make you a responsible and respectful water consumer … i will provide a list of ideas in the next upcoming post (wed. june 24) …

“the wars of the next century will be about water …”

ismail serageldin, vice-president of the world bank

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7 Responses

  1. 1

    Your article is excellent and impresses on us the need to conserve water. However, although you do touch on this, my question is how does running water in my shower, water that has come out of the system (e.g. the river) and is then immediately returned (via the water treatment plant, of course) to the river, waste water in the sense of leaving less of it behind for future generations. I understand the fact that the treatment plants use energy and my using less water reduces energy used to process the water. But, the basic question is the conservation of water for the future. I cannot see how my water-gushing toilet, as much as it is costing me money in water bills, wastes water for the future. Perhaps if this were explained properly to the average person, more water conservation would take place. Don’t misunderstand, I am all for water conservation, but I have yet to see my question adequately explained. Can you explain it — not just for me, but for all the other (unintentionally) ignorant people out there?

  2. 2

    I am surprised no one has replied!!!!!!!!!! I am a freshwater biologist at Missouri State University looking for websites for a class and came across your question and it is not only a good one, but one I have to answer for my husband over and over and over and over again :)

    The problem with “wasting” water is that when it goes down the drain, it is taking more with it than it came in with. Waste water treatment plants have come a long way, but cannot keep up with efficient removal of the things that go drown the drain short of excrement and some high end plants remove phosphorus. If you couple that with the fact that approximately 200+ new and improved chemicals a year enter the retail market with minimal testing on long term effects on the environment, with usually no tests done on synergistic effects, then that provides an additonal reason.

    So, you might ask, if I switched to organic, would that work? Again , look at the end effects of things put back into the environment. The ONE lake, stream, river that is getting that material is being inundated!

    Finally, the water water process DOES take a TON of energy. Wihtout it, we couldn’t support the current number (and future number) of people that inhabit the earth.

    OK- I have to get bakc to work :)

  3. 3

    hi tina!
    thanks so much for answering mike’s question…. you summarized precisely what i meant to write–so thank you very much for that! … here are a few other points i’d like to add:

    - local and regional water sources are often depleted or diverted to other localities (often for political and economic reasons) and this creates an “apparent” loss of water … aquifers and water sources can also run dry due to changing weather patterns, and this can create acute or long-term local or regional water shortages …

    - tina makes a good point about water contamination and pollution affecting (decreasing) the amount of usable / drinkable water that is available to many communities and, eventually, to all the world … in addition to this, many chemicals (“organic”, “natural” & otherwise) effect blooms of algae and other microorganisms, which further change water ecosystems & can turn a once-drinkable water source into one that is not fit for consumption …

    - there are certainly differences in how certain uses of water ultimately affect the water supply … for example, industrial applications are usually more wasteful and detrimental than domestic and personal uses, but of course every little action adds up!

    thanks to both of you!

  4. 4

    thanks for your question, mike! … thankfully, tina provided a fantastic answer before i did!

  5. 5

    Hello , can you tell me who owns the second water cycle image? We would like to use with permission on our website.

    Thank you,
    Corrina Quintana

  6. 6

    hi corrina!
    thanks for visiting my blog … the urban water cycle illustration you’re referring to is from SOPAC ( and can be found here:

  7. 7

    Amazing… your writing is fairly in depth, many thanks.