11 March 2014


I recently read a very insightful article written by Charles Fishman, author of "The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water", that I told myself I must absolutely post because there are so many parts in the article that I would like to quote.

The weather in California has recently gone bizzare. With the beginning of March came torrential rain, heavy snow and mudslides, which is not necessarily in that order. Who would have imagined that prior to these occurrences was a drought, which was happening for the third consecutive year. Scientists have evidences pointing to 2013 as being the driest year in the state since 1580, which was at least four centuries ago. Interestingly, this most populated state in America used to receive 75% of its water from snow annually but there is a loss of 70% of snow in this particular year alone. 

On another side of the globe in Britain was another weather anomaly of a different proportion. Biblical flooding plagued the River Thames which received the highest rainfall since 1883 and which has been flowing at its peak for the longest time. All across England and Wales was the heaviest rain ever recorded in 240 years and Brits were kayaking through the towns in south-western England.
"There have always been floods and droughts. But water problems of all kinds seem more common and more urgent because they are."
The year 2013 registered 41 records of $1 billion weather disasters and they mostly involved water-related events such as flooding, drought or damage from cyclones.

The three main reasons that contribute to these water issues are:

  1. Population Growth - The supply of water to ever-increasing populations in California and mega-cities such as Beijing, Delhi and Los Angeles is a huge challenge to be overcome because more people essentially means more water use. Over 10 million people live in California today, which is actually a third more than in 1990, and they use an estimated volume equivalent to about 15 m depth of a 40 hectares lake daily. This figure is regarded as astoundingly excessive.
  2. Rising Living Standards - In developing nations such as Brazil, China and India where the middle class group is increasing in population, the water use is also escalating tremendously because of water used for toilets, showers and clothes washers. Modern plumbing may be convenient and more hygiene but it uses at least five to ten times more than those without it.
  3. Climate Change - This disrupts the routine weather cycles and brings forth more frequent and severe weather changes. In London, the Thames Barrier, a mechanical dam, was already used 17 times in January 2014 to alleviate flooding problems compared to only 35 times collectively during the 1990s. Ironically, the same part of England suffered the worst drought of the last century just 2 years ago before it was inundated with floods this year.
The above natural disasters brought on dire consequences and had ripple effects that resonate throughout the affected regions. In America, the drought severely reduced the cattle herd to the smallest in 60 years and battered the country's produce by Californian farmers who accounted for 60% of it. This resulted in beef being sold at record high market prices.
"Often, what we do about the weather is tough it out and hope things go back to "normal". But what we have seen with water over the last decade is a warning. Tumult may be the new normal."
Interestingly, understanding and addressing water problems begin with realizing that these water problems are localized and that water is not responsive to pure wishful thinking. The good news is this means all population communities have control over and can solve their own problems happening in their areas. It also means that there must be long term plans to carefully map out permanent changes in the way the communities live, farm, build and use the water resources. We do not have the power to hold back the water related natural disasters such as flooding or drought, but can instead anticipate it and adapt to the occurrences.
"Whatever the connections to weather patterns over the Pacific, England's flooding has to be fixed in England. The drought is California's problem - conservation in Kansas won't help." 
Mandating water use reductions and rationing are some possible steps towards managing the water problems. In California, this was not necessary because the daily water use for an average resident in Los Angeles reduced from 715 liters in 1972 to about 465 liters today through their conscious efforts to radically change one's attitude and lifestyle.
"The Los Angeles metro area has 50 percent more people than it did 20 years ago, but it uses the same amount of water. The drought, bad as it is, would have been far worse if people were still using so much water. Thinking ahead matters."
It is a fact that the amount of water on Earth doesn't change, that is, no new water is being produced and no water is lost. It is all in a state of equilibrium where the water is being used, in a state of evaporation or returned to the watersheds. We are constantly being reminded that "water doesn't end up where we want it, when we want it."
"In a world of big problems, water problems are among the biggest. But unlike many other big problems - climate change, economic inequality - most water problems are solvable. There's usually enough water, and even enough money. What we need is time and the realism to tackle the problems. In that sense, the current water tumult is doing us a favor. If we pay attention, water is giving us fair warning."
This couldn't be more well-said than the above quote from the writer. It is an assurance that all is not lost and there's still hope for mankind where water problems are concerned. It is time to sit up and pay heed to the environmental changes and make a conscious effort to effect changes before it is all too late.