Water Wars 2050
P. Clay Sherrod, Arkansas Sky Observatories
How we got ourselves into this plight….
Starting in 1970, I lectured around North America on the devastating affects when combining population growth with climate change. Back then….nobody listened to any talk about such things. Today…..nobody listens because it seems that no one cares about the future….the world of our grandchildren to be.
But finally, scientists and governments alike are staring to talk: We are running out of water at the present rate of usage and once gone, we are not going to get it back.
The difference in 45 years is that in 2014 we now have science to back up what only predictions foretold in 1970: we are headed for a major crisis in only a few dozen years, one that needs to be addressed and dealt with today.
I speak of the "Water Wars" that will be coming in, if not before, the year 2025. This scenario is not science fiction….it is science. Land, money, possessions will have little value compared to the richness of WATER.
Consider the facts:
1) because of the miracles of modern medicine and the unchecked birthrate throughout the world (including the United States), the world’s population is growing by an alarming 80 MILLION people per year. Please let that number sink in for a few minutes before reading further…..next year this time, there will be 80 million more people on Earth.
2) because of population increases and lifestyle changes, our demand for fresh water has increased TRIPLED over what it was in 1965.
3) in 2013 NASA Goddard Space Flight Center scientists published their findings that climate change may result in a significant drop in yearly rainfall over populated areas with increased monsoons over tropical equatorial regions; in fact many temperate regions may experience NO rainfall for longer extended periods of time, these regions including most states across the contiguous USA.
We need not venture far from our home here in Arkansas to experience what is already happening. The farmers in eastern Arkansas can readily attest to the depletion already of the groundwater aquifers that are essential for irrigation of our rice, soybeans and other crops. Arkansas is the fourth largest consumer of ground water in the entire United States; in 2009 about 118 square miles of the Mississippi Alluvial Aquifer had been pumped dry, with some 1500 square miles pumped down to less than 50% of the original volume. By 2050, the United States Geological Survey’s model predicts that over 400 square miles of that life-and-job-giving water source will have been pumped out, with over 2,000 square miles of it pumped below the 50% water that remains. Note carefully that irrigation utilizes over 70% of our fresh water reserves every year…..and that HALF of America’s drinking household water comes from groundwater wells.
But we need food: 80 million more people every year have to have food on the table, and water to drink.
Agriculture is not solely to blame of course. The past 50 years have seen an incredible increase in demand for energy, the most notable in the realm of petro-fuels for operating all of the additional vehicles that the "new 80 million people yearly" are wanting to drive. America wants to become self-reliant on energy, but to do so comes with a huge and life-threatening price: WATER.
To make fuel (as in diesel, gasoline, jet fuel, bio-fuel, kerosene, propane) requires enormous volumes of water, more that you likely have ever even considered.
To illustrate how we may be moving in the wrong direction, consider "Bio-Fuel"….where we turn corn or some other vegetable/living substance into a liquid that will explode in an engine and make our vehicles move up and down the streets.
Not only is the demand for Bio-Fuel increasing, but the pressures from our government and their lobbyists are increasing in such was that you can rarely even find a "gallon" of gasoline that is not polluted with at least 10 percent "ethanol."
Hard fact, hard to swallow: to make 3/4 of one gallon of ethanol – not even ONE gallon! – uses up 1,056 gallons of our fresh water. So, in gas pump language, that means that every gallon of fuel that you are pumping into your gas tank contains 10 percent ethanol which took over 100 gallons of our precious water to produce.
The sad fact is: we have done this to ourselves and we continue to do it to ourselves.
The hard fact is: the world is overpopulated, and contrary to the beliefs of many, the world does not "grow" in size to account for our misjudgment in human propagation. We are simply running out of room.
In 2014 the world will likely approach the 8 billion population mark. That is a lot of zeros. Did you know that up until the mid-1800’s it took the length of time of ALL mankind to reach only one billion people? From the beginning of the Earth until 1850, the population remained adequate for a small planet like Earth. In less than 200 years, we have produced eight times the number.
The Census Bureau estimates that by 2050 the world will be home to nearly 11 billion, while water diminishes and room to live shrinks.
Sadly, this growth is not because of ignorance that may exist in third world countries and many have suggested; certainly that is the major contributor, but even here in the United States the average size of families is growing again. Indeed we find it entertaining it seems to watch a family of 21 on reality television….as it aims for even more.
The evidence is hard according to the Nature Conservancy: 1) over half of the groundwater aquifer water supply in the USA is now depleted; 2) half of the lakes, streams and rivers across America are now consider polluted or depleted and deemed unsafe for household use; 3) over 40 percent of all lakes and rivers in the USA have now been labeled as "unfit" for swimming by the EPA.
"Going Green"…..a cute slogan with too little too late? Is it too late to turn back?
Going Green….too little, too late?
Previously, I pointed out that scientists and governments alike – unlike they rarely do – have come to an agreement that water on our planet Earth is being exhausted and will reach critically low levels in only a short time.
Long has there been agreement that there are too many people on the Earth……next year, at this time, there will be 80 million more people living here than right now.
Where are we going to put them? How are we going to feed them? Where is their water coming from?
Remember from last week, that the EPA and other agencies have deemed over half of our fresh water as unfit for consumption….and even swimming. Deep ground water pumping has depleted nearly all of our global aquifers to about half of their original capacities in less than 100 years.
In our early school years, we learned about The Water Cycle and how nature amazingly takes water stagnant on the ground, evaporates it and puts it into the air and it becomes clouds and rains as pure water once again to replenish potable water on the ground. In an ideal world of 100% efficiency and NO human activity, this old science text myth would be a reality. But we live on a planet with lots of humans.
Today, 8 billion people occupy our planet; in 2050 there will be 11 billion people. All of these new people will need additional air to breathe, water to drink and a place to sleep at night. Many will drive vehicles that require roads and parking places. To accommodate the additional 3 billion humans will require that even more of our rapidly depleting green spaces – forests, fields, meadows, parks – will be removed for additional asphalt and highways. New slash and burn subdivisions will take the place of small stands of hardwoods neighboring nearby metropolitan areas. Those trees and green plants were our only hope to preserve the mythical water cycle and we have been cutting them down to make room for this seemingly endless onslaught of humans.
Here is a breakdown per person of daily human water consumption in the United States:
· Toilet – 19 gallons per day
· Bathing & hygiene – 15 gallons per day
· Laundry – eight gallons per day
· Kitchen – seven gallons per day
· Housekeeping – one gallon per day
Lawn watering and car washing will typically double or triple this amount of daily usage. This does not include the most important aspect of water consumption: drinking.
In fact, in most suburbs of the USA, the daily water consumption of a family of four is nearly 300 gallons. According to United Nations estimates, the demand for water worldwide is increasing by 1.7 TRILLION gallons every year…..let me show you what that looks like: 1,700,000,000,000 gallons more…..in addition to what we used the previous year.
Concluding a long study of possible climate change through which even less water may be available worldwide, NASA’s Dr. William Lau of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, concluded an extensive global water depletion study and a gloomy forecast in terms of our water for the next decade:
"In response to carbon dioxide-induced warming, the global water cycle undergoes a gigantic competition for moisture resulting in a global pattern of increased heavy rain, decreased moderate rain, and prolonged droughts in certain regions…. Some regions outside the tropics may have no rainfall at all. The models also projected for every degree Fahrenheit of warming, the length of periods with no rain will increase globally by 2.6 percent."
"Going Green…." We have all heard the slogan. Is it too little too late? Absolutely, but we all should still do our part to help and hope, pray and beg that someone finds a solution to the world’s growing population problem.
Fact: without human population growth there would not be a water shortage nor would there be concern for this major problem facing us by the year 2050. We all want to be here of course; we want to have a place to live which takes up space, drive a vehicles that takes up space on roads which take up space to malls, restaurants and movie theaters whose parking lots take up lots of space.
Using water-efficient devices is a good start, but unfortunately the wheels on this crisis are already turning with great momentum.
With such devices, the savings are notable, but still minor compared to the larger issues:
* Older conventional toilets required 3.5 gallons per flush whereas the newer low consumption toilets less than half that, not even 2 gallons with each flush.
* Conventional showerhead and shorter showers save a bit, from 3 gallons to 2 gallons if you take a 3 minute shower.
* Faucet aerator on your kitchen and bathroom sinks can reduce your daily usage from 3 gallons to only a half-gallon
* Top-loading washers use far more water than front-loading washers, from 40 gallons to a mere 22 gallons per load.40-55 load
* Same thing with dishwashers, the high efficiency models reducing water requirements from 12 gallons down to eight.
In rural areas, some landowners are working for self-sufficiency in water supply, devising clever runoff collection systems, aquifers and storage systems.
We are witnessing a tragedy of epic proportions in California this early part of 2014 with the wildfires – 1400 of them in only five months because of the exceptional drought conditions that exist in one of our most populated regions of the United States. The fires are there because they lack rainfall and surface water…..and there is no surface water to fight the fires. But while all this is going on, the daily watering – to the tune of 312,000 gallons per day according to National Public Radio – for the Palm Springs Golf Course continues…..and there are an estimated 16,000 similar courses in the United States alone.
We are witnessing other tragedies of even greater magnitude throughout the world where nearly 80 percent of all people are resorting to the polluted 50 percent of lakes, streams and rivers that are deemed unsuitable for even swimming to gather drinking water in their buckets….many of them bathing in the same water source the same day.
There is no magic solution to this crisis and there is presently not a silver lining to the dark, rainless cloud. We have too many people and too little water. Mother Nature soon will no longer be able to replenish through the fabled "Water Cycle" all that is needed to sustain the human race. We should have listened in 1970 when "Going Green" indeed would have been the right thing to do.
As many of you, I have grandchildren for whom I worry; they are growing and soon will be having children of their own. Pray that all our grandchildren will be responsible and raise only the number of children that this world can support, and pray even harder that someone far smarter than I will find a solution that will once again balance our humans with their supplies of, and rights to, life-giving water.
P. Clay Sherrod,
Arkansas Sky Observatories
ASO Petit Jean Mountain /MPC H41
ASO Petit Jean Mountain South /MPC H45
ASO West Conway /MPC H43
…….serving astronomy since 1971
(Quotation…. “Water, water, everywhere….” from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge