Fresh ice water, so refreshing on a hot summer’s day! Here’s the thing — take away that water and you have nothing. If you look at the Earth from space, you will see that most of our planet is water. However, the vast majority is salt water and unusable for human consumption.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 68 percent of the world’s fresh water is locked up in icecaps and glaciers, a little over 30 percent is in groundwater, and only 0.3 percent is in surface waters, such as lakes and rivers.
The human body is composed of a little over 60 percent water. Water can be found in every living cell, and without it, humans wouldn’t be able to survive. You would think that we would take better care of a resource so fundamentally important our survivability; however, we have resorted to make water, a basic necessity of life, just another form of currency.
Fresh, clean drinking water is going to be one of the most precious resources in the near future as our species begins to run short of supplies. Studies reveal that groundwater resources are being used at an alarming rate that is surpassing the planet’s ability to refill those reserves, and not all groundwater is proving safe to drink.
China provides an example of a county grappling with the issue of usable water resources, as its groundwater supplies are proving insufficient to meet the demands of its people. Underground water tables in some of China’s largest cities are rapidly falling while concentrations of heavy metals continue to climb.
Not only are groundwater supplies in China becoming compromised, but some moving bodies of water, such as rivers, are so highly contaminated with industrial carcinogenic chemicals that they have taken on a blood red hue. Still waters, such as lakes, are also suffering from the effects of pollution, as thousands of dead fish have wash ashore along their banks.
An increasing number of lakes are also so choked with toxic green algae blooms during the summer months that they pose a health risk for swimmers.
Water resource concerns are not limited to China. A lake in India was so polluted that it caught fire due to the high level of industrial contaminates on its surface. The Great Lakes in the U.S. are very heavily polluted from storm runoff containing fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, oil, heavy metals, and PCBs.
Concerns over the quality of water supplies in a major U.S. city recently took center stage. In 2014, residents in Flint, Michigan began complaining about the color, taste, and odor of their water to local government officials. Fast forward to early 2016, and reports of lead in the city’s water supply became so widespread, that the governor of Michigan declared a state of emergency.
While local and state officials have come under heavy fire over the crisis, the situation remains unresolved as infrastructure repairs to the city’s aging lead pipe service lines are ongoing.
More recently, Native American tribes have united in North Dakota to protest the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline. The tribes expressed concern that the pipeline would not only violate land that is sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, but also represents a very real threat to the reservation’s water resources if it ever experienced a leak.
The federal government has stepped in to temporally halt construction while it reviews the situation.
Another very controversial source of water pollution is fracking. Fracking is defined in Wikipedia as:
“A well-stimulation technique in which rock is fractured by a pressurized liquid. The process involves the high-pressure injection of ‘fracking fluid’ (primarily water, containing sand or other proppants suspended with the aid of thickening agents) into a wellbore to create cracks in the deep-rock formations through which natural gas, petroleum, and brine will flow more freely…”
In North Dakota, where fracking is widespread, a study revealed that water, which is pumped up to the surface with oil, contains radioactive salts that are being deposited in the soil downstream of the operation, contaminating water supplies. The study authors reported that:
“Streams that have been polluted by the waste-water have been found to contain levels of contaminants that have frequently exceeded the federal guidelines for safe drinking water or aquatic health.”
It should be noted that fracking for oil in North Dakota is relatively deep, but on the U.S. east coast, the aquifers and surface waters are showing much more contamination because the drilling is shallower, and the product that exploration companies are looking for is natural gas.
The fact of the matter is that humankind is responsible for most, if not all, of the pollution found in our drinking water. Water is a precious resource, and with its rising consumption, there won’t be enough to go around if we don’t change our habits.
Still, there are some simple ways that we can help to conserve water, such as installing water efficient faucets and showerheads, turning off faucets when not in use, fixing a leaky toilet, and reducing the amount of water used outside.
Sharing water means sharing life with this planet, and taking care of our planet gives humankind and all life here on Earth a future. So the next time you have a clean glass of water with dinner, take a moment and appreciate how lucky you are. I know I will.
Author: Erin Beardsley.