It’s what life is made of, and we can’t live without it. According to NOAA, the ocean covers 71% of the earth’s surface and contains 97% of the planet’s water, which means that water also helps make our weather.
It’s the lack of water that is one of the root causes of the fires in the Pacific Northwest and in California, wreaking havoc across hundreds of square miles; I learned last night in a presentation by Prof. Panayotis Tsakonas of the University of the Aegean that drought and increasing desertification in northern Africa are part of the reason for the forced migration of hundreds of thousands of people around the Mediterranean. Deadly floods have recently appeared in northern Arizona and southern Utah. Asia’s monsoons have provided below-average moisture this year, with food supplies suffering. Scientists looking for life on other planets look for a chemical water signature with their instruments. Many aquifers underlying population centers are shrinking, or dropping, causing sinkholes and bringing saline water into wells, water that is undrinkable and harmful to animals and crops.
Cities, where most of us live, are even more impacted by issues of water quality and quantity. Diseases can spread more quickly in cities, and when there are shortages millions of people can suffer. Urban water infrastructure, like water infrastructure everywhere, is aging and failing. Rainwater from storms flows away immediately, rather than being used where it falls or percolating down to recharge aquifers. It is clear that urban water issues can only increase in number and intensity. In homes and offices, we can reduce water use by installing more efficient equipment, changing the way we accomplish daily tasks such as washing dishes and brushing our teeth, reusing water for plants and gardens, or constructing “greywater systems” where building codes allow. (http://greywateraction.org/contentabout-greywater-reuse/)
(permeable pavement allows rainwater to percolate into the ground, recharging groundwater).
Municipalities are also innovating and testing multiple approaches to improving water management, and a broad new initiative promises to bring together a number of academic and governmental institutions for focused research and implementation. http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S43/92/20A66/index.xml?section=people . Colorado State University is leading a consortium of 14 academic institutions and partners to address the challenges that threaten urban water systems in the Unites States and globally, establishing the Urban Water Innovation Network. The Network “will create technological, institutional and management solutions that help communities increase the resilience of their water systems and better respond to water crises.” May they work swiftly – we need to manage our water much better, which also reduces the need for energy to move and treat that water.