Water: Why You Should Worry About It & How You Can Help!
I get that right now there is a lot of fear circulating about the Presidential Election, Terrorism, and Gun Violence. While those are all valid concerns... water is the issue that keeps me up at night. The purpose of this blog was for me to be able to write about these issues without scaring the crap out of everyone, so I am going to try to keep a positive light, just bare with me until the end!
How much water does Earth even have?
I'm going to break it down for you in a way that hopefully will make sense and not make me sound like a know-it-all. Here we go...
This photo represents Earth's water to scale.
The black arrow is pointing to all of the water on and above Earth including the oceans, lakes, rivers, ponds, clouds, etc. As a drop it would be about 332,500,000 cubic miles and be about 860 miles in diameter.
The dark blue arrow is pointing to the drop that represents Earth's fresh water. This is all of the fresh water in streams, groundwater, etc. The volume of this sphere would be about 2,551,000 mi3 and form a sphere about 169.5 miles in diameter. Yes, all of this water is fresh water, which we all need every day, but much of it is deep in the ground, unavailable to humans.
The light blue arrow is pointing to the drop that represents the fresh water in lakes and rivers that people can actually drink. A drop that most of you will need reading glasses to see is how much water, something vital for our survival, humans actually have to use.
Less than 0.5% of the water on Earth is drinkable!
How much water do humans use?
This is a LOADED question. Obviously Ethiopians use far less water than Americans in the United States. Again, I'll break it down for you.
- The average American uses 350 gallons of water per day (An average African uses 5 gallons per day)
- 3.9 trillion gallons of water are consumed EVERY MONTH in the U.S.
- 2.5 billion gallons are used per day on golf courses
- We (Americans) use about 40 gallons of water per shower, 20 gallons of water per load of laundry, and 15 gallons per day brushing our teeth and washing our hands
- 70% of usable drinking water is used in homes
- It takes 2,000-2,5000 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef
- It takes 12,000 gallons of water to produce one bushel of wheat
- The final prep of a meal at a fast food restaurant uses 1,400 gallons of water
- Watering your lawn uses about 2 gallons per minute per square foot!
- It takes 3 gallons of water to make a single piece of paper
- Here's the kicker, it takes 2 liters of water to make a 1 liter water bottle!
That's not all... not even close... but you get the idea. #WastefulAF
At current consumption levels there is only enough water for 9 billion people. I would like you to keep in mind that this does not mean 9 billion total... there could be much more if we all used the same amount of water as the average African so do NOT blame this issue on population. It is a consumption issue first and foremost. "Many sub-Saharan Africans get less than 20 litres of water a day and two-thirds have no proper toilets. By contrast, the average Briton uses 150 litres a day while Americans are the world's most profligate, using 600 litres a day. Phoenix, Arizona, uses 1,000 litres per person on average - 100 times as much as Mozambique." (Source)
We're using it up... and polluting it at the same time
You may need to get a Disney movie ready because it's about to get super depressing.
- 70% of industrial waste is dumped into fresh water
- 15 million children under the age of 5 die every year because of diseases caused by drinking water
- 85% of the groundwater in Bangladesh is contaminated with arsenic
- ALL of China's groundwater is contaminated with carcinogenic chemicals, and 20% is still used for drinking water
- 14 billion pounds of garbage, mostly plastic, is dumped into the ocean every year.
- The nuclear crisis that occurred in Japan after the 2011 Tsunami dumped 11 million liters (2 million gallons) of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean.
- In America, 40% of the rivers and 46% of the lakes are polluted and are considered unhealthy for swimming, fishing or aquatic life.
- On an average 250 million people worldwide succumb to diseases related to water pollution.
- 80% of the water pollution is caused due to domestic sewage like throwing garbage on open ground and water bodies.
- As per U.S. EPA estimates, every year in the U.S, 1.2 trillion gallons of sewage from household, industry and restaurants is dumped in to U.S. water annually.
- Over 30 billion tons of urban sewage is discharged into lakes, rivers and oceans each year. Two million tons of human waste is disposed in water everyday
- And don't even get me started on pesticides... everything you spray onto a plant seeps into the soil and pollutes the groundwater. Not only are we using the groundwater faster that it can be replenished, but we are polluting it to grow our food as well.
According to the survey done by Food & Water Watch approximately 3.5 billion people in 2025 will face water shortage issues. This will be mainly due to water pollution. This is likely to happen because the world pollution is increasing tremendously with more water sources getting contaminated as a result of water pollution.
Makes you feel like an idiot for screaming at your coworker about the election, right?
How critical is the water crisis?
On a scale from slight gasp to full blown panic attack I would say have the Valium ready. There are already conflicts over water breaking out all around the world.
If you're like me and you find this absolutely fascinating and depressing at the same time then read Water Wars by Vendana Shiva. A used copy is like a dollar on Amazon right now.
And folks... the Southwest has lost 75% of it's drinking water! 70% of the water in the Colorado River is shipped off to supply water to 30 million people in the Southwest. Because of this overuse the Colorado River has started to run dry and not reach Mexico as it once did. 7 other rivers that have run dry because of over use are the Indus River, the Amu Darya River, the Syr Darya River, the Rio Grande River, the Yellow River, the Teesta River, and the Murray River. Keep in mind that these are some of the biggest, mightiest rivers on the planet!
How to help!
Glad that's over because as important as it is to understand the gravity of the situation, it is just as important that I explain to you what you can do! This problem is gigantic and we cannot solve it individually, but that doesn't mean you can just go back to your daily life knowing what you know now right? Right.
- Embrace dry shampoo! Seriously. You only need to wash your hair maybeeeee once per week and use dry shampoo because your showers should be less than 5 minutes. And 5 minutes is like your luxury time!
- Let your lawn die! If you have an irrigated lawn YOU ARE THE PROBLEM. Irrigated lawns are obnoxious, pretentious, and using way too much water for their value. Invest in fake grass or better yet, have your landscape fit your environment and plant foliage that is native to your area.
- Turn off the water while you brush your teeth, lather the soap onto your hands while washing them, are lathering your hair in the shower, and any other areas that you notice the water running for literally no reason.
- Stop eating meat! I know that's a stretch, but there's a no-meat-Mondays movement you can join because Agriculture uses 69% of the fresh water that could be drank! If you say no to 1 hamburger you saved 625 gallons of water!
- Be a minimalist! It's a great lifestyle for many reasons, but one of the important reasons is because you'll be buying less stuff! That means less water was used in making it, transporting it, and the waste pollution from it won't end up in our drinking water!
- For Pete's sake STOP DRINKING BOTTLED WATER! In 200 years humans are going to look back at us and just think about how stupid we were for this one cultural habit. As you already have read... it takes 2 liters of water to make a 1 liter bottle of water. COME ON.
- Cancel all of your junk mail! You're saving 3 gallons of water per piece of paper. Try to send emails instead of letters, read ebooks or used books instead of new, and never ever throw away perfectly good paper you can use to write on.
- Save every drop! This is particularly important because whether you live in the desert like me, or in the rainforest, water conservation needs to be a habit for everyone! Just because it rains where you live does not mean this is not a worry for you. You can invest in water catchment containers (including your average bucket), fix leaks, turn off irrigation, and use drip irrigation instead of sprinklers. Plant your gardens on a slope so rain water runs off onto the plants.
- Request less pavement and concrete and more landscape! We need to replenish our groundwater. Replace your concrete driveway with rocks if you can, ask your local governments to try to implement as much natural landscape as possible into your community as well! Rain water shouldn't be directed somewhere else when we need to replenish the groundwater.
- Invest in water-saving fixtures such as for your shower head, toilet, faucets, etc.
- TELL EVERYONE YOU KNOW! Talk to people about how this is a REAL issue they need to be worried about and that they need to conserve water more than they need to do almost anything else in their daily life!
These are just a few things! There are so many more things you can do if you feel like doing more research. I'm trying to keep this as short as possible because you have a life to live and need to go start implementing some of these methods.
I also do not expect you to fix the politics surrounding third world countries and lack of access to water, but it is good information to know so you can discuss it with people and open the dialogue because that's how change happens!
If you're interested in this issue and want to learn more, here is a great article about the Water Crisis in India that is very well written.