Last week I heard a rumor that there was a contaminant present in my town’s drinking water and that Norfolkans should take precautions to purify what is used for drinking and cooking. I phoned the city offices and found out that news about the routine spring cleaning of our Water Pollution Control Plant was underway. The representative said there were no contaminants in the water.
Out of curiosity, I went online and checked out the city’s website to locate the EPA report and Nebraska Water Quality data. Both reports showed that Norfolk had a nearly perfect level of water quality. Because August is National Water Quality Month, I decided to look more closely at the US and global water issues. While the maps and charts show Nebraska, similar factors are measured everywhere else. (The images are clickable.)
The most troubling news about water in the United States regards the severe drought and the resulting water supply crisis in the Southwest part of the nation. Ever since the beginning of the present century, there has been a more or less continuous drought from Colorado to California. Smaller rainfall amounts and especially low snowpack in the Rocky Mountains has diminished the vitally important Colorado River at its source.
A previously generous supply of water in the Southwest had been largely taken for granted. Millions of Americans have migrated to that area to take advantage of warmer average temperatures and many others spend their winters in that region. Along with the people has come the desire for swimming pools, green lawns, golf courses and other applications that burden the water supply.
The current crisis is making it difficult to satisfy even basic needs of household and agricultural use, let alone luxury water consumption. The water supply deficit is exasperated by higher than normal temperatures that are evaporating water from the Colorado River, depleting the reservoirs, and drying out agricultural land.
The United States is not alone. According to People Action International, there are at least 31 nations already facing water stress issues. More than 460,000,000 people are currently affected. United Nations estimates project those numbers, in 2025, to be 48 nations and 2,500,000,000 people in danger of dangerously low freshwater supplies.
Unfortunately, some 20-percent of the global population already lacks access to safe drinking water. Around half of the people on Earth do not have access to basic sanitation. More worrisome is that about 80-percent of illnesses and a third of all deaths in developing nations are water quality related. Globally, approximately 7,000,000 people die because of water quality problems, 4,000,000 of the fatalities are children.
We find water issues at the base of many current news events. We regularly hear about a seriously contaminated river or lake somewhere on Earth. The same goes for the endangered aquifers. Much of the raging controversy over the KXL tar sands oil pipeline is over threats to the Oglala Aquifer in the Great Plains.
Water from aquifers, or groundwater, is highly important to agriculture and urban water supplies. Careless and wasteful water usage and pollution is at the root of our unsustainable water supply crisis. Aquifer depletion shows up as cities physically sinking lower. For instance, Mexico City has literally dropped down over ten-metres during the past 70-years.
The delivery of water is also a major issue. Leakage through old pipes causes astronomical water losses. 80-percent of the water loss in major European cities comes about this way. Mexico reports an average 60-percent leakage loss. Some areas, like East India, the Philippines, and Thailand report leakage losses of 50-percent. Alarmingly, desert locales in the Middle East cannot trace the loss of 40-percent of their water.
That we have problems with our water seems illogical, at first glance. Earth is the water planet of the Solar System. More than 70-percent of the planet’s surface is covered with water. However, most of it is undrinkable or unusable because if is saltwater in the oceans and seas. What remains is drinkable if it isn’t polluted.
Toxic chemicals are an increasing threat to our water supply. The major sources are agricultural fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides coupled with industrial waste and sewage. Water pollution has been at critical levels in much of the world the past several decades.
The major contamination problems with water involve microorganisms. Bacterial and viral content of water cause the most dangerous situations. The most serious contamination is present in developing nations, where there is the added threat of parasites. The main techniques to make water safe for consumption are filtration combined with chlorination. In a pinch, we can boil water, to kill bacteria and viruses.
Because most of us are aware of safety issues, some of us buy bottled water. However, it’s doubtful whether or not bottled water is safer than regular tap water. Practically all bottled water comes from municipal water sources. Some people claim that bottled water tastes better than tap water. However, taste is not a good indicator of safety. Water tastes different because of different levels of minerals.
I haven’t even touched on the major water quality crisis that is looming in the world’s oceans. The corruption of the seas is the stuff of nightmares. If you’re interested, you can find descriptions of the ocean crises at many sites on the web.
There’s no need for me to repeat any more data that scientific experts have already published. I mainly want to remind the reader that water quality problems are the greatest threats to human health, food security, and the ecological health of the Earth. These problems include whether endangered species will die or thrive. More and more, we’re finding out that survival of other species greatly affects our own survival.
Some things we can do to help reduce water quality problems are readily available. We can become better informed about water and resource management. We can find out about water resource development. We can also research and advocate for water recycling and desalination technologies.
When all is said and done, water is the source of life. We not only need pure water; we need to be accurately informed about the status of our water quality.
The Blue Jay of Happiness has this link to help you start your own inquiry about water quality in areas in the United States: http://water.usgs.gov/owq/ If you live outside the US, you may wish to begin your research at: http://www2.worldwater.org/index.html