Might rainwater provide a solution to our water problems?

With recent water shortages as well as lower allotments, consumers have found many creative and innovative ways to save water. Some people have even proposed new sources of water, such as rainwater. In Los Angeles, estimates report that up to 80% of the rainwater that falls on the city is directed straight into the ocean. With many engineered rivers and canals, this rainwater has no chance of being re-absorbed into groundwater basins and the natural water cycle.
By paving these waterways with non-permeable cement and concrete, there is no way for water to permeate the structure and replenish groundwater. This also destroys the natural waterways that they replace. These natural waterways often provide crucial habitat to endangered species of birds, fish, amphibians, and other wildlife.
Since the waterways are not permeable, they also collect pollution without filtering it like natural systems. The paved waterways transport pollutions and contaminants directly into the ocean, where it has an irrefutable effect on organisms. The pollutants collect on exposed surfaces such as roadways, sidewalks, and in the engineered canals. Once the rainy season begins, all of the pollutants get flushed into the ocean.
With rainwater being transported directly into the ocean, we have no way of using it to our benefit. Why not direct this rainwater into water treatment plants where it can be cleaned, and used by humans? For every inch of rain that falls on 1,000 square feet of ground surface, there is 623 gallons of water. This water can be used to irrigate fields, grow crops, or even build one heck of a water park…So why do we keep wasting it?
Brian O’Neill

Are farmers causing another Dust Bowl?

Many dry climates, such as regions in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas face another Dust Bowl if farming practices and water usage methods don’t change. Vast portions of Texas as well as other states that range as far north as Nebraska withdraw water from the Ogallala Aquifer, which is quickly being over drafted. Since these regions are mostly dry, hot climates, they must use significantly more water per unit of crop than a farm in a cooler climate, such as Minnesota or Idaho. Adding to the excess water use, many crops are not commercially grown in climates similar to their natural climates. For example, 900 grams are required to grow one pound of soybeans. 1,700 liters of water is required to grow one pound of rice.
As a result of government subsidies, farmers grow crops that are not necessarily the most efficient for that given zone. By growing crops that are better suited for dry climates, farmers would significantly reduce the amount of water needed to grow their crops. Another significant factor that contributes to excess water use by commercial farms is that of inefficient irrigation systems.
How many times have you driven past a farm with their irrigation system on around noon and seen clouds of mist blowing away? There are multiple problems with this scene. For starters, noon is one of the hottest times of the day where evaporation rates are highest. This causes more water to evaporate instead of being used by crops. Also, the irrigation systems frequently release clouds of mist because of incorrect pressure. Higher pressures in irrigation system cause sprinkler heads to emit much smaller droplets of water, which are easily blown by wind and evaporated. Another problem with this situation is the inefficient irrigation system: rotors. Rotor irrigation systems work by spraying the entire ground with water, but because of the low efficiency rates, they waste a significant amount of water. By retrofitting these systems with targeting irrigation systems such as drip emitters, the water is only deposited at the base of plants. This reduces the amount of wasted water because there is significantly reduced evaporation, and the water that flows out of the emitters travels directly to the plant roots, as opposed to wetting the entire surface.
Brian O’Neill

Water Woes

Although there are many misconceptions and fallacies about water, there are two that cause much conflict and debate among concerned parties. These include water as a renewable resource, and water desalination/availability. As a water conservationist, these issues are discussed frequently with many varying viewpoints.
The view of water as a renewable resource is a significant controversy because environmentalists consider it to be a non-renewable resource. A non-renewable resource is one that has a fixed amount and does not regenerate, such as fossil fuels or water. A renewable resource, on the other hand, is one that regenerates itself and can be consumed for a sustained amount of time, such as lumber, and crops. Renewable resources must be used in a sustainable way, otherwise they will not be able to renew themselves fast enough. Water is not a renewable resource because there is a relatively fixed amount of potable water on earth. There is a fixed amount of fresh water in the global hydrological cycle, and thus has a limited supply available for human consumption and use.
Water desalination and availability is another common debate among environmentalists. Desalination is a common “solution” to water availability and conservation issues because it seemingly provides a foolproof solution. What better way to access more water than to take it from the sea, which after all, cover about 70% of Earth’s surface. Problems arise with the cost of constructing and maintaining desalination plants, as well as the excess brine produced in the process. Many cities and institutions have conducted studies pertaining to the cost and effectiveness of these plants. One such study conducted by Singapore found that it would be more cost-effective to treat wastewater than it would be to desalinate saltwater.
Not only do these issues have the potential to reduce our water shortages, but they provide a more environmental solution as well. By building desalination plants along coastlines, many fragile habitats would be effected and possibly destroyed. If we can instead treat our wastewater to drinking water standards, humans could potentially cease depleting aquifers by recycling the water we consume.
To read more about these issues, read Jerard L. Schnoor’s paper, Three Myths about Water which can be found in Environmental Science and Technology published during February of 2010.
Brian O’Neill

How readily accessible is your water?

The April 2010 issue of National Geographic was printed as a special issue about water, and how it affects our global community. Populated with many awe-inspiring photographs from around the world, the magazine confronts many issues facing water today¬¬—availability, scarcity, and the environmental constraints of water in ecosystems. The most shocking article I read in this issue was that of a woman and the struggles she must endure to get daily supplies of water.
The story is about an Ethiopian woman who lives in the Konso district, in a village called Foro. Her name is Aylito Binayo and she makes an average of three trips per day. She has spent approximately the last 20 years of her life making three trips per day-that is almost 22,000 trips to a source of water. It takes her over an hour to walk to the source, and about 30 to 45 minutes waiting in line until she can actually get her water. But even when it is her turn, she can’t always get water. The pools are used by donkeys and horses, which inevitably dirty the water with fecal excrement as well as stir up sediment.
As a result of many nations over drafting their water resources, they must resort to buying water from other nations. This causes a vicious cycle of water rights disputes and a shortage of water in poor villages. Poor villages rarely have working sanitation systems, and often defecate near their source of water. This creates optimal conditions for breeding bacteria and other diseases. As a result of poor sanitation conditions such as these, 3.3 million people die annually. That is over one death every 10 seconds. In an attempt to conserve water, save money, and most importantly save lives, please reduce your water use so that less fortunate people will have the privilege of life.
Brian O’Neill