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March 10, 2009 11:41 PM   Subscribe

Where does your water come from? Global water supply chart. Global freshwater resources from the UN.
posted by baphomet (43 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
where does your water go?
posted by Glibpaxman at 11:59 PM on March 10, 2009


Water Scarcity: Hidden Risks to Business -- "A new report points to the potential dangers of water shortages caused by global warming and quickly increasing demand."
posted by ericb at 12:12 AM on March 11, 2009


Climate change accelerates water hunt in US West.
posted by ericb at 12:13 AM on March 11, 2009


You know, looking at the global water supply chart, you'd think an intelligent species would be doing everything it could to tap that 97.5% of the water that's in the oceans. I know desalination is hard, but someone is going to make a breakthrough there at some point. It's interesting that in many ways if some sort of solar/desalination combo could be cooked up, the gulf states that currently are oil kings could conceivably become water kings.
posted by maxwelton at 12:47 AM on March 11, 2009


Where does your water come from?

According to almost every piece of popular scientific writing I have ever read: Hitler's bladder.
posted by turgid dahlia at 1:05 AM on March 11, 2009


I know desalination is hard, but someone is going to make a breakthrough

Sure, but until then everyone (and especially farmers) could and should also use a lot less water, and would use a lot less water if water boards made every additional gallon cost a little more than the last.
posted by pracowity at 1:34 AM on March 11, 2009


Water Wars a project from the Pulitzer Centre of Crisis reporting.
posted by adamvasco at 2:41 AM on March 11, 2009


On the topic of water purification, Dean Kamen's Slingshot seems promising (Previously, more details).
posted by Rhomboid at 2:52 AM on March 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I know desalination is hard, but someone is going to make a breakthrough there at some point.

Consider why it's hard. Taking the water away from the salt (distillation) costs a lot of energy. Taking the salt away from the water (reverse osmosis) isn't free either. You're up against the laws of thermodynamics here -- separating salt from water is a big decrease in entropy, and you have to pay for that somehow.

In light of that, it's not clear why we should expect a breakthrough. We'll get incremental improvement, sure, but even a 100% efficient process wouldn't be nearly as cheap as water from a nearby river or aquifer.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:49 AM on March 11, 2009


These kids today do not appreciate the fact that you're soaking in it. Even in other countries.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:01 AM on March 11, 2009


I stopped drinking water some time ago. A homoeopathic practitioner told me about how it retains memory, and each time I drink some, I can distinctly taste I say leave the water for the poor, the stupid, the gullible. There is a modern, scientific solution, however.
posted by davemee at 4:12 AM on March 11, 2009


A homoeopathic practitioner told me about how it retains memory

They also say that "like cures like", so I dunno how seriously you want to take this person.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:27 AM on March 11, 2009


it's not clear why we should expect a breakthrough.

If it comes to finding a great affordable method or running out of water, everyone will focus brains and money and lab time on that problem rather than on all of the less pressing problems we're solving every day, and the right chain of great ideas and great luck will come together. Or we'll run out of water. Increment, increment, increment, and suddenly we're zooming down the track under steam power, or we're flying, or we're splitting atoms. Or we're dying of thirst. I bet on a breakthrough.
posted by pracowity at 4:52 AM on March 11, 2009


Let them drink beer.
posted by Dumsnill at 4:59 AM on March 11, 2009


if water boards made every additional gallon cost a little more than the last

I'm going to avoid 'jokes' about waterboarding and point out that in 2005 (best figures I can find quickly) the UK's water supply was leaking 3,609,000,000 litres of water every day. That's 1,300 Olympic swimming pools.

Every day...
posted by twine42 at 5:03 AM on March 11, 2009


Yep. Things like that are hard to fix but they need to be fixed. That still doesn't excuse people using many times as much water as they need to use.
posted by pracowity at 5:20 AM on March 11, 2009


davemee, we'd also be tasting thousands of mixed drinks, fantastic soda from days of yore, and the nectar of the gods.

In short: the mother of all Suicide mixes. In the end, I think it all balances out, and you're left with ... water.

Water Privatization is fucking scary. It's easy enough to say: yeah, it's just water. Someone has to provide it. But when the goal is to make money off of a necessity of live, things get ugly.

Even without major corporations getting involved, overdraft is an issue. Leaky pipes mean water is getting back in the ground, eventually. But when no one really watches how much water goes into and out of the ground, aquifers can be ruined for a very long time. And if the freshwater aquifers are coastal, overdrafting will lead to saltwater intrusion.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:37 AM on March 11, 2009


... and Californians are urged to cut water usage by 20%, as we're in our second year of drought. Drought is serious, but cyclical.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:43 AM on March 11, 2009


You know, looking at the global water supply chart, you'd think an intelligent species would be doing everything it could to tap that 97.5% of the water that's in the oceans. I know desalination is hard, but someone is going to make a breakthrough there at some point. It's interesting that in many ways if some sort of solar/desalination combo could be cooked up, the gulf states that currently are oil kings could conceivably become water kings.

It is nice that you are so optimistic about scientific progress, but a radical change in the cost of desalination is going to require a radical breakthrough in our understanding of how chemistry works. Such a breakthrough seems unlikely given the extent to which we understand the underlying physics and how little that understanding has changed our theory of chemistry. As others have said, desalination is costly because there is a fundamentally high energy cost associated with pulling salt out of water. Very little short of an act of god is going to change that.

I don't see any way in which the gulf states could become water kings. Their water demands drive desalination technology, but they don't have any special access to salty water that others lack.

I doubt there will be any breakthrough. We will get more efficient at using water, and we will use more desalination technology over time. Costs will increase as human population and water usage increases.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:07 AM on March 11, 2009


Water Privatization is fucking scary.

I'm not so sure it is. The cost of water has to go up. Either a market mechanism that dynamically balances supply and demand or government mandated price increases will do the job. The market approach will yield faster price changes that may provide the motivation for people to more actively conserve and researchers to more actively work on outside the box solutions. Either way the poor are going to get squeezed the most. Water rationing would ensure that everyone receives a minimum quantity of water, market mechanisms seem to be the most fair way to distribute excess water above the ration floor.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:13 AM on March 11, 2009


Water Privatization is fucking scary.

No shit. We're talking Malcolm fucking McDowell-level scary.
posted by rokusan at 7:16 AM on March 11, 2009


Water privatization is just as bad an idea as the rest of the privatization schemes.

I have no idea, beyond the nigh-religious dedication of certain sectors of society to the faith of free markets, how anybody can say "privatization" without getting laughed at or being the target of flying tomatoes.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:18 AM on March 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


How real was that whole "Bush buys up land in Paraguay on top of giant aquifier" thing, anyway?

Because, my paranoid little brain figures that he must have read at least some of those briefings, right? I need to read more about how ex-Presidents invest.
posted by rokusan at 7:19 AM on March 11, 2009


I need to read more about how ex-Presidents invest.

I read somewhere that Congresscritters' investments outperform index stocks by something like 12-15%, making them all either investment geniuses on a credulity-defying scale or insider traders on an entirely credible scale, but I cannot for the life of me find the article.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:32 AM on March 11, 2009


We should be fighting with every fiber of our being ANYONE who wants to privatize public water supplies. Water is a human right, not a privilege!
posted by any major dude at 8:28 AM on March 11, 2009


Then I will exercise my right to use 150 gallons of water each day. But perhaps you meant "sufficient water to satisfy basic need is a human right" which is a different thing than "water is a human right."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:46 AM on March 11, 2009


I get irritated at the term "water shortage" in a global context. Water doesn't disappear or change when you use it for the vast majority of purposes. The water problem is one of purity and distribution. Treating water takes energy and treatment infrastructure, distributing water takes energy and distribution infrastructure. So the "water shortage" is in reality an energy and infrastructure problem.

Water conservation is imperative if you live in an area that runs at or close to a consumption deficit, or if you live in an area that provides the water supply for such an area. But it's not necessary in all cases. A perfect example is a house with a well. Assuming waste is used for typical household purposes, and treated appropriately (septic system), there is no net loss of water, regardless of how much one uses. Essentially, the usage can be thought of as temporary water storage without the ability to access it while its stored.

A water shortage is a local issue. I do agree that the consequences of water shortages in certain areas can be wide reaching, maybe even global. However, it doesn't matter how much water Virginia conserves, it won't help Southern California in any significant way. This is completely different from energy consumption (from the grid) or fuel consumption, where what happens locally does have an incremental affect on the overall supply of that resource.

My point being, making water expensive for areas where it's abundant does not solve any problems. Doing so will reduce human consumption in those areas, and that unconsumed water flows right on down to the sea to become (relatively) unusable.
posted by forforf at 9:28 AM on March 11, 2009


forforf, you're correct in that the distribution of water is the real problem, not a "water shortage" (consider that 40% of the world's non-frozen fresh water is in the 5 largest surface lakes, 80% is in the 40 largest lakes, and fully 20% is in Lake Bykal alone), but there are two things to consider:

1) While the hydrosphere is an endless cycle and thus the quantity of water in nature doesn't change naturally, groundwater contamination and pollution effectively reduces the supply of potable water. We can mitigate this with pollution control and decontamination efforts, but it is still vexing.

2) Global water demand is expected to exceed supply by 2050. This is hugely problematic. The most intensive demand for water-- by far-- comes from agriculture, and that's where most of the growth in demand is. When demand exceeds supply, we will have a water shortage, and will have to figure out better ways of managing hydrological resources. For those of us in the states, this isn't any more significant a challenge than it already is-- we have plenty of huge freshwater lakes and aquifers; hydrologically our continent is quite rich. However, in many parts of the world, this is simply not the case, and this is where the water shortage is going to be brutal and, in all likelihood, devastating.

So yes, the idea of a "water shortage" is currently a distribution problem more than anything else, but in 40 years that will not be the case-- we're going to be asking the planet for more than it can give. Reduced glaciation due to global warming will increase supply somewhat, but that's sort of like getting set on fire and putting it out by rolling around in bees.
posted by baphomet at 10:26 AM on March 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Earth's natural wealth: an audit -- We are using up the planet's minerals at an alarming rate - how long before they run out? cf. and btw...
posted by kliuless at 10:30 AM on March 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


Reduced glaciation due to global warming will increase supply somewhat

I dont see how, baphomet. Polar melted ice will enter the sea and melting of mountain glaciers is a serious loss to the water supply in Europe and Asia.

It is an interesting question whether warming temperatures are speeding up the water cycle and how this enters the climate feedback loops. Higher rates of evaporation lead to more atmospheric moisture and clouds; more cloud cover increases albedo and reduced temperatures.

Anyhow, our best bet is to model nature and astronauts and recycle our water more carefully. There is no reason sewage water from cities cannot be captured, cleaned and returned to the drinking water supply instead of flushed into rivers and seas. Except for the toxic components now mixed in I suppose.
posted by binturong at 10:43 AM on March 11, 2009


binturong, yeah, on second thought you're right-- those mountain glaciers feed mountain streams, don't they? Hadn't thought it through correctly, consider the statement rescinded.

Higher rates of evaporation lead to more atmospheric moisture and clouds; more cloud cover increases albedo and reduced temperatures.


Also, higher rates of evaporation put more latent heat into the atmosphere, creating more frequent and more severe hurricanes and other storm systems. I see your point though, I hadn't considered the increase in albedo due to evaporation rates. Interesting question indeed.
posted by baphomet at 11:01 AM on March 11, 2009


maxwelton - its already happening
posted by sfts2 at 11:54 AM on March 11, 2009


“We should be fighting with every fiber of our being ANYONE who wants to privatize public water supplies. Water is a human right, not a privilege!”

Long live the Fighters! Bless the Maker and all His Water. Bless the coming and going of Him, May His passing cleanse the world. May He keep the world for his people.

Kliuless – intriguing links – agricultural trade crisis, hm.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:21 PM on March 11, 2009


b1tr0t - I'm siding with Pope Guilty here.

Five years ago the issue of water privatization exploded here when massive public protests forced out the California engineering giant, Bechtel. Within weeks of taking over the city's public water company Bechtel hiked up rates by as much as 200%, far beyond what the city's poor could afford to pay. That was 2004, and there were revolts. It was not an issue of managing resources, but a tie-in to IMF's agreements, including the sale of all remaining public enterprises. In this case, there is no benevolence in the price of water. It's profiteering.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:22 PM on March 11, 2009


So freshwater lakes are 67.4% of surface and atmospheric water which is 0.4% (!!!) of all freshwater which is 2.5% of all water.

In that context, dumping toxins in a lake or river sounds like the dumbest fucking thing anyone could do. I suppose some lakes *look* big compared to what you're putting in them, but when you consider it from a global perspective, they're tiny.

So, it's probably a bad idea to melt glaciers instead of desalinate sea water when we run out of easy molten freshwater, huh? Why, though?
posted by morganw at 12:41 PM on March 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


. Water Scarcity & Water footprints Maize is estimated at using 2000L / Kg. and Beef 16,000L / kg.
posted by adamvasco at 1:10 PM on March 11, 2009


morganw- glaciers and ice caps are critical for maintaining the balance of net radiation on the planet. Since ice/snow has the highest albedo (surface reflectivity, for snow/ice its around 75%) of any surface on Earth, reducing the mass of glaciers and ice caps means that the incoming solar radiation that ice was reflecting 75% of is now being absorbed-- mostly by the ocean.

Its easy to see why this is majorly bad-- if the balance of Net R gets shifted due to an increase in incoming shortwave radiation, global temperatures are certain to rise without a corresponding valve. Polar ice cap melting is already considered one of the major contributors to global warming due to this effect, and we're not even directly trying to do that; a concerted effort to melt polar ice would be climactic suicide. Not only that, but it increases the effect of my previous comment...more latent heat = bigger, more severe, and more frequent hurricanes.
posted by baphomet at 1:44 PM on March 11, 2009


Global water demand is expected to exceed supply by 2050

Which sounds like a population problem (or some other growth problem) not a water problem. In other words, if technology came to the rescue with cheap, efficient desalinization or other solution, then water would be plentiful but some other resource would replace water as the scarcity.

This is why I cringe at the characterization as if water was a consumable resource (like coal or oil), because it wrongly characterizes the fundamental problem.
posted by forforf at 2:20 PM on March 11, 2009


To be clear, the breakthrough I was talking about was some sort of solar power/desalination combo, hence the reference to the gulf states, which have both access to the sea and lots and lots of solar potential. Southern California and Mexico and similarly situated, I would imagine. The gulf states have the advantage of laxer environmental regulation (I don't know what is currently done with the salt from desalination plants) and cheaper, or essentially free, coastal real estate.
posted by maxwelton at 2:42 PM on March 11, 2009


Salt from desal plants gets discharged about a mile out to sea as a hypersaline sludge. Expect the envirowhiners start to oppose desal when they figure that shit out. It's already started here in Western Australia.
posted by Talez at 3:46 PM on March 11, 2009


Which sounds like a population problem (or some other growth problem) not a water problem. In other words, if technology came to the rescue with cheap, efficient desalinization or other solution, then water would be plentiful but some other resource would replace water as the scarcity.

If you look at it that way, then its not a population or a water problem, but rather a problem of the spatial distributions between these systems.
posted by baphomet at 5:35 PM on March 11, 2009


The state government of Victoria is building a desalination planet - to much outcry - because even with water restrictions (ie, watering gardens on certain days at certain times, no watering of lawns, washing cars with buckets of water, etc), our supply continues to decrease at an alarming rate.

In 1997, Melbourne's (a city of 3.8 million) water catchments held nearly 100% of their total capacity, but that had dropped to below 75% by years' end. Between 1999 and 2003, the totals fluctuated between 50-60% capacity. And since then end of year totals have been dropping. At the end of 2008, our water catchments were at 35%.

January and February alone gave us 3mm of rain in total - the driest beginning to a year on record. Our water is currently at 30.2% capacity, which will continue to drop until our winter months and the second half of the year - which normally sees storage levels rise a few percent. But with an ongoing drought and recent bushfires, much of the runoff that would end up in the catchments is soaking straight into the ground. The fires even threatened to contaminate a dam or two, just to cap off this great year we are having so far.

Piping water from other parts of the state is being done, though the entire state is suffering the same drought. Piping it from other states will be tried, but the great hope is a desalination plant that won't go online for another three years.

I don't really want my city/state/country to be the testing ground for what happens when water runs out, but the government isn't doing enough - and the rain isn't coming like it used to.

[Victoria's water storage levels 1997-current]
posted by crossoverman at 6:44 PM on March 11, 2009


there is no benevolence in the price of water

I never said there was, unless there is some sort of government mandated minimum water ration. Anyway, a 200% price hike seems like a good start if you'd like to see more water conservation.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:51 PM on March 11, 2009


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