Our most precious resource: The need to be conscious with water consumption
By Joe Mazza
Our species is the result of a long and fascinating process called evolution. One of the major ingredients that has sustained life through the eons of evolution is water.
Approximately 70 percent of our planet is covered with water, but only 2.5 percent of that is fresh water, most of which is in the ice caps and glaciers, and only a small amount is drinkable or potable.
Thanks to the consistency of the planetary water cycle, the amount of water on the planet will not change. However, the amount of fresh potable water that becomes contaminated can drastically change how much is available for human consumption. Plant and animal life cannot exist without potable water.
The water cycle provides a unique and beneficial balance between clean salted water and ground water that has been purified by the land and the evaporation-condensation cycle. Much of this water has been held in huge caverns or aquifers for years and has remained a major source of potable water. Aquifers vary in size and geographical location and can be easily tapped as a source of sustaining life.
However, this precious water is being exploited by both agriculture and industry. Large agricultural areas, where huge amounts of water are needed for crops, are tapping the underground aquifers that cannot be replenished in a timely manner. Industry, with its need for large amounts of water, unfortunately, returns its water in an unpotable (contaminated) condition, unfit for plant or animal life.
These issues are particularly pronounced in developing and undeveloped countries where disease and ill health are major problems due to contamination and lack of potable water that can lead to infectious disease of epidemic proportion.
Stateside, the situation that has recently been discovered in Flint, Mich., serves as a timely example and reminder of how contamination of an entire community’s potable water supply can go undetected until people are afflicted with an array of maladies.
The stress on the water supply is also compounded by the increasing global population, estimated to be greater than 8 billion by 2030. This elicits a compelling question: Will there be enough food and water for the next 25 years?
In areas where agriculture is the major component of the economy and where rainfall is meager, crop yield becomes compromised and aquifers depleted. California, which is the world’s eighth largest economy, is a prime example. Southern California’s Central Valley is the major source of fruits and vegetables in the U.S.
In California farmers use 80 percent of the state’s available water and grow 230 varieties of crops with a broad range of diversity. With the lack of timely rain and snow from the mountains, crop variety will need to be selective, and water conservation will be the No. 1 priority.
Here in Wisconsin we have the good fortune of having ample water to meet industry’s needs and sustain our agrarian culture, but we too must be sensitive to the overuse and abuse of our water. It is our most important resource.
The solution to these problems is beyond our current technology, and taking water from other areas is unacceptable. Additionally, what everyone is going to face is the looming problem of climate change. There are no solutions or means of reversing the changes in climate. It is apparent that our species has contributed to some of these changes, but there are much larger factors, which are part of the planet’s dynamics at work, participating in these global changes that are not clearly understood.
We must all face these global changes that are ahead. However, agriculture and industry, because of their insatiable pursuit of water, will need to take these major issues head on and devise stringent but necessary regulations pertaining to water utilization in the future.