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November 2014



Sustainability of Water: Up the Creek With the Paddle

Written by , Posted in Sustainability, Water

Sustainability of Water: Up the Creek With the Paddle

Imagine you’re stuck on a space ship with only a couple hundred gallons of water to share with your two crewmembrs. It’s a dwindling supply, but every day you have to use it. You cook with it and drink it. You clean the stove and your clothes with it. It is necessary for life. In fact your mission is to find water on another planet because there, you WILL find life, perhaps not flourishing, but budding.

With every day that passes your water stock dwindles ever more, inching down the tank as each of you looks to each other with contempt blaming each other for taking more than your ration. The ironic part is that just outside your hatch there is a vast ocean of water that can be processed into potable water, if you just had a space suit with enough energy to harvest it. You could do it of course, but the cost is prohibitive; air, energy, infrastructure. Do you spend your efforts conserving your water or do you concoct a plan to harvest that ocean just outside your reach? It’s a race as you rocket towards the water planet that you can’t prove will be potable either. Will you achieve your goals? Can you afford to spend the time and effort on either option? Perhaps cryogenic sleep is the option, freezing your body until you arrive at your destination. Surely you choose all your options, working towards sustainability within, whilst you create technologies to harvest without. Just be careful that your commander doesn’t use an extra ounce for his harvesting machine. Oh and the lieutenant may just have a fever and will need a few more ounces for a few days. She can have yours, right? Oh wait, sorry, she doesn’t have a fever. She’s pregnant with your commander’s child. Who do you suppose will draw the short stick?

Sadly, it is no different on earth. We have but 1 percent of the world’s water available for drinking. We could focus on desalination technology for the oceans 97% or mining for the glaciers 2%. In the meantime, our population is growing and every mouth takes more water.
While you would think that the water just gets excreted back into the system, you would be wrong. With every use, only a part is returned to the system, and then the earth loses more as the sun beats down on us.

We are on a space ship with limited water. We are just at the beginning of our journey however, when few people notice the level going down yet. If you take a look at the UN’s water scarcity map, you see what you would expect, southern hemisphere countries are experiencing deficiencies, and northern hemisphere countries show no issues, especially Canada and the United States, the two largest water wasters in the world.

We’re early enough yet to invest to make techniques for desalination and mining cheaper, however in the meantime, rather than watch how much your neighbours are using, all we can do is conserve. Why? Because the alternative is to jump on a space ship destined for a planet not so near you.