Fresh Water: Going, Going, Gone!
By: Tom Chatham
The critical keystone of life on this planet is water. Its importance cannot be downplayed in the expansion and productivity of the human race. While some species can live and even prosper in brackish or polluted water, humans need fresh water to ensure good health and proper function. The small amounts of fresh water available on this planet that is mostly covered by water, provide a limit to the expansion and endeavors of mankind. The sustainable use of this precious resource can go a long way but man has been anything but sensible in his use of it and his shortsightedness may be about to catch up with him.
Fresh water aquifers are getting dangerously low and above ground sources are disappearing at an alarming rate. Not only are the demands of human needs draining rivers but the reoccurring dry spells are on the verge of becoming catastrophic as rivers turn to little more than mud bogs and streams. Lake Mead which is held in place by the Hoover Dam, is down by 59% and stands the chance of going dry by 2021. The Mississippi River is down by almost 40 feet in some places. It has become so low that salt water from the gulf is threatening to flow up the river and could become life threatening for the towns that draw their water from the river.
One of our problems with water is the fact that large amounts of it are used for things other than for drinking. The national average indoor use for water is 60 – 70 gallons per day per person and 50% – 75% of residential use is in the bathroom. Much of this use can be attributed to ease of accessibility. If the average person had to carry this much water into the house every day it is likely they would use much less. A standard toilet uses about 3.5 gallons per flush while a low flush type uses about 1.6 gallons per flush. In a city of millions, this use alone adds up to substantial amounts every day. The use of composting or incinerator toilets would go a long way towards reducing water use. The use of grey water systems for irrigation of small areas would also reduce water needs considerably.
Another major use of water is for the generation of electrical power. For every gallon of water used in a residential home, five times as much water is needed to provide the electricity for that home. Almost ½ of all water taken from rivers and lakes is used by power plants for cooling and generation functions. With the population increasing, the power needs will likely increase by a similar amount requiring an even larger percentage of our water sources. As our water sources dry up it will make power generation increasingly difficult if not impossible. The average nuclear plant requires 2725 liters of water per megawatt hour produced, coal 1890 liters and natural gas plants 719 liters per megawatt. The output at Hoover Dam has decreased by 23% due to low water levels and there is a 50% chance it could cease power production by 2017. Researchers also predict Lake Mead has a 50% chance of going dry by 2021. Hoover Dam provides power to about 29 million homes and would be difficult to replace.
A major need for water is irrigation. Almost 60% of the worlds fresh water withdrawals go towards irrigation uses. In 2005, total irrigation withdrawals in the U.S. was about 128,000 million gallons per day. People need food to survive and that requires large amounts of water for the system we now use. The Ogallala aquifer is rapidly dropping and provides huge amounts of water to the mid west for crop production. As the water dwindles, so does our ability to produce huge crops to feed hundreds of millions worldwide. Many vegetable farms in California have had their water cut off at different times in the past due to water shortages and it is likely to get worse. Many of the western states get most of their irrigation water from ground level sources and lack of rainfall can have serious consequences. This will affect food cost and availability and lead to a dysfunctional system of food production that will affect millions nationwide.
As water becomes more of an issue, expect government at all levels to react with heavy handed tactics to regulate its use. Recently a person in Oregon was sentenced to jail for capturing rain water on his own property. Not too long ago the idea was proposed that meters should be put on private water wells and the owners should be taxed on how much of their own water they use. As water becomes more of an issue, expect to see more tactics like these from those in charge.
The water situation as expressed is one of many good reasons to become far removed from urban areas and build an off grid homestead to ensure you have the resources you need in the future. The further you are away from government bureaucrats, the more freedom you will enjoy and the less hassle you will have to deal with. By building and developing your property in a sustainable way you will be able to avoid many of the problems of the general population that must submit to government bungling and mismanagement. By determining your water, energy and other future needs and devising a plan for storage and use, you will be able to maintain a good standard of living no matter what shortages appear. If you plan to build a small homestead, you need to consider the annual rainfall in the area among other factors. If you depend on others to insure your well being and standard of living you may suffer for that dependency in the future. If you do not have a plan for your future yet, time is running short. Make the best of the time you now have.