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Friday, November 20, 2015

Water, Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink

Author's Note: The book cover images in the side margins of this blog are my own publications of eBooks available at both Amazon and B&N. Please take a moment and go to the sites and read about them. Then if you like it, buy one or two.
"Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink." The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
With 80% of the earth covered with water, sometimes even miles deep, we are running into a "shortage" of fresh water to drink, irrigate our crops and supply our livestock. In many places we are still depending on finding this resource in the ground just like we do for Coal, Gas and Oil. As the local populations continue to grow the luxury of pumping water our of ancient aquifers is proving to be folly.
As we pull more water out than goes in by nature's processes, we must gig deeper and deeper to get to the top of that essential watertable that sustains our presence on the earth. The other source of fresh water is the sun. Helios evaporates water from the land and seas and precipitates it back on the ground and in the seas. Land-based rain has a very limited lifecycle since we must use it or lose it over a very short time period. Our dam projects can slow it down and give us a little time to decide what else to do, but when the inflow is significantly diminished the storage volume plummets fast.
When the Southwestern States first endeavored to redistribute water among its jurisdictions, they opted for the cheap construction method. Open channels with gravity flow was the norm. Pumping stations raise the water where necessary. The Romans were expert Engineers at moving water great distances. The build hundreds of miles of open aqueducts and where necessary, enclosed conduits to move the water by gravity. They did not have a need for evaporation control.

In the above diagram, the used enclosed conduits to move water through a valley. We do much the same today but have left a lot of water exposed to evaporation.
When the rain stops falling and the snow doesn't pack in the mountains, the watershed cannot keep the river flow up to the needs of the human settlements. First the people are stressed, then the land becomes stressed. Extended drought leads to soil erosion and desertification.

Eight years of drought in the middle of the North American continent in the 1930s left the conditions we call the Dust Bowl. Without water, the land dried up and the winds blew it away. Today's California drought is only the precursor to possible dust bowl conditions in the coming years if the rain patterns do not return to what they were. This drought is half way to the length of the 1930s one.

Thomas A Bass wrote Camping With the Prince and Other Tales of Science in Africa in 1992. In his book we are introduced to the plight of desertification on the African continent and the depletion of river flow due to the retreat of glaciers. The glaciers have been melting at a sustainable rate for centuries, but now are melting too fast. When they are gone from the high elevations, the rivers will cease to flow and local habitation will be impossible without a technological solution and a massive construction effort. Desalinization is one such project. African populations are not wasting hugh amounts of water now so conservation is not a significant solution.
This last graphic presents the extent of the water vulnerability of the world. This is a massive crises that only huge amounts of capital can solve provided there is a political will to do so.

In the USA there is the opportunity to alter our water use patterns and not flush it down our toilets, and otherwise pollute it for generations to come. Actually, flushing and car washing do little to diminish the amount of fresh water available. That water goes back into the rivers and lakes after being reasonably cleaned. Watering lawns, pumping it into the ground to fracture shale deposits, does. Open irrigation farming also creates a net loss of water due to evaporation levels. The water that goes into the crop is not a waste since we need the crops. in other parts of the world they have a structural deficit of water available at all they need solutions.

Bonus picture: Spain's proposed solar desalinization amphitheater.

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