We’ve all heard the stories that we might run out of fresh drinking water soon, but just how dire is the situation really? There are plenty fear mongers spreading “news” crafted in such a way as to spread fear on the one hand and, on the other, you get those who deny the existence of any water problems.
Firstly, let’s look at some of the facts:
- More than 70% of the earth’s surface is covered in water
- 97.5% of that is salt water
- Only 2.5% is fresh water
- 70% of this fresh water comes in the form of icecaps, soil moisture or groundwater caught up in underground aquifers
- This leaves very little for direct human use
These fresh water sources mentioned above are time-consuming and costly to access. So even if we’re not literally “running out of water” like the doomsayers are claiming, there is still a looming global water crisis.
Water is being wasted daily, whether by negligence, for example leaking pipes and outdated infrastructure, or pollution rendering the water supply unsafe for consumption. What’s also alarming is that the majority of fresh drinking water is pumped into agriculture for irrigation purposes.
Even though some areas are experiencing severe droughts and genuine water shortages, in most other cases water is seemingly abundant, it’s just not safe to drink. Supporting this notion that water is abundant, Ryan Carlyle, a hydraulics engineer, says that drinking water is “theoretically limitless”, as it doesn’t disappear after we use it, it simply gets dirty. Furthermore, after numerous studies he stated that water is physically available all around us. For example, we have many sources of salt water that can become drinkable after desalination, waste water that can be recycled, moisture that can be pulled from the air (even in the most arid regions), and aquifers that can be accessed via deep well drilling This water may or may not need treatment or processing of some sort.
It’s clear that the water is there, physically. Therefore, the real barrier here is financial. Accessing these sources, treating the water (desalination for example) and transporting it to where it is needed most is an extremely costly exercise. The amount of resources needed to access water in the Arctic icecaps and transporting it to areas where there is a genuine need, for example California where they are experiencing massive shortages, will be astronomical. Although there are reliable sources, it requires large quantities of financial and energy resources to access and prepare this water for drinking.