Is the US Already Past the Point of Peak Water?

October 16, 2010

Hugger – Peak water has been a concern for several years now, with many nations already experiencing extreme water shortages, even to the point of violence. But here in the US, it seems that water will continue to flow from faucets indefinitely. If only that were the case… In the southwest where it is arid in the first place, water crunches after years of drought are already serious, and water supplies even in more precipitous areas need to be tightly regulated. When it comes to peak water, the US is certainly not immune.

Nearly a billion people in the world don’t have access to clean water right now,
In an article on Huffington Post, Gleick writes of three types of peak water: renewable, where water flows are constrained over time; nonrenewable, such as groundwater sources, where we pull more than can be naturally replenished; and ecological, which is the point beyond which the cost to the local ecology of using the water is higher than the value of using it for human consumption. According to Gleick, we seem to have hit the limits of all three.

There is strong evidence that the United States may have already passed the points of peak water, including peak renewable, nonrenewable, and ecological water, in many watersheds, especially (but not exclusively) in the more arid west. Indeed, when we look at data on total water withdrawals and use in the US… it shows that maximum water use occurred more than 30 years ago, and that we are now using less water overall, and much less water per person, than in 1980.
The bad news is that this suggests we have reached, or passed the point of peak water — as is increasingly obvious in the regions I’ve mentioned above.
The good news, however, is that we have been able to continue to grow our economy and meet the demands of growing populations, with less and less water, through smart technology, regulations, education, and water conservation and efficiency programs. I think we’re in a transition to a new way of thinking about and managing our water. And the sooner the better.

Please read full from a Hugger

Also see Peter Gleick: how to be more water efficient Q&A

World water statistics from the world water week

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  • Of all water on earth, 97 % is salt water, and of the remaining 3 % fresh water, some 70% is frozen in the polar icecaps. The other 30% is mostly present as soil moisture or lies in underground aquifers.
  • Less than 1% of the world’s fresh water is readily accessible for direct human uses.
  • Global water use: Agriculture 70 %, Industry 20 %, Domestic use 10 %.
  • A child born in the developed world consumes 30 to 50 times as much water as one in the developing world.
  • With rapid population growth, water withdrawals have tripled over the last 50 years.
  • An estimated 90% of the 3 billion people who are expected to be added to the population by 2050 will be in developing countries, many in regions already in water stress where the current population does not have sustainable access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.
  • The 10 largest water users (in volume) are India, China, the United States, Pakistan, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Mexico and the Russian Federation.
  • Water withdrawals are predicted to increase by 50 percent by 2025 in developing countries, and 18 per cent in developed countries.
  • In 2030, 47% of world population will be living in areas of high water stress.
  • By 2030 the number of urban dwellers is expected to be about 1.8 billion more than in 2005 and to constitute about 60% of the world’s population. As the urban population increases, many major cities have had to draw freshwater from increasingly distant watersheds, as local surface and groundwater sources no longer meet the demand for water, or as they become depleted or polluted
  • To ensure our basic needs, we all need 20 to 50 litres of water free from harmful contaminants each and every day.
  • Almost one-tenth of the global disease burden could be prevented by improving water supply, sanitation, hygiene and management of water resources. Such improvements reduce child mortality and improve health and nutritional status in a sustainable way.
  • Up to 50% of malnutrition is related to repeated diarrhoea or intestinal nematode infections as a result of unclean water, inadequate sanitation or poor hygiene.
  • 87 per cent of the world’s population – 5.7 billion people – uses drinking water from improved sources. 54 per cent uses a piped connection in their dwelling, plot or yard, and 33 per cent uses other improved drinking water sources such as public taps, standpipes, tube wells or boreholes, protected dug wells, protected springs and rainwater collection.
  • Current trends suggest that more than 90% of the global population will use improved drinking water sources by 2015.
  • 884 million people – about half of whom live in Asia – still rely on drinking water from unimproved sources such as ponds, streams, irrigation canals and unprotected dug wells.
  • 30 to 40% of water or more goes unaccounted for due to water leakages in pipes and canals and illegal tapping.
  • Some African countries have been making rapid progress in drinking water coverage. For example, Tanzania was only 38% covered in 1990, and in 2002 was 73% covered; Namibia was 58% covered in 1990, and in 2002 was 80% covered.
  • Improved water supply reduces diarrhoea morbidity by 21%.
  • Improved sanitation reduces diarrhoea morbidity by 37.5%.
  • Hygiene interventions including hygiene education and promotion of hand washing can lead to a reduction of diarrhoeal cases by up to 45%.
  • the total annual economic benefits of meeting the MDG target on water supply and sanitation accrue to USD 84 billion.
  • Economic losses, due to the lack of water and sanitation in Africa as a result of the mortality and morbidity impacts, are estimated at $28.4 billion or about 5% of GDP.
  • Poor countries with access to clean water and sanitation services experience faster economic growth than those without: one study found that the annual economic growth rate was 3.7 % among poor countries with better access to improved water and sanitation services, while similarly poor countries without access had an annual growth of just 0.1 %
  • Today, irrigated agriculture covers 275 million hectares – about 20% of cultivated land – and accounts for 40% of global food production.
  • Feeding everyone in 2050 – including the undernourished and additional 3 billion people expected – could require 50 % more water than is needed now.
  • Industry and energy together account for 20% of water demand

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