While most of the world frets about the $100/barrel cost of petroleum, another resource shortage has been looming at the outskirts of our attention.
Our SUVs will grind to a halt without the former.
Life will grind to a halt without the latter.
In many parts of the world the growing shortage [note to self: as a writer, can you live with the contradiction in terms?] of water for agriculture and drinking purposes is already a critical issue. Governments can print money, but the planet’s supply of water is apparently finite, especially the fresh variety.
Which leads us, as in many instances, to California. You’ll remember California, the home of huge redwood forests, spectacular ocean vistas, and once arid deserts now populated by tens of millions of people.
Water is imported into this residential desert from as far away as Colorado, and as the population, and agricultural activity that supports it grows, the potable supply in many cities is insufficient.
Which leads us to today’s story, courtesy as so many are, of the NYTimes.
November 27, 2007
From Sewage, Added Water for Drinking
FOUNTAIN VALLEY, Calif. — It used to be so final: flush the toilet, and waste be gone.
But on Nov. 30, for millions of people here in Orange County, pulling the lever will be the start of a long, intense process to purify the sewage into drinking water — after a hard scrubbing with filters, screens, chemicals and ultraviolet light and the passage of time underground.
On that Friday, the Orange County Water District will turn on what industry experts say is the world’s largest plant devoted to purifying sewer water to increase drinking water supplies. They and others hope it serves as a model for authorities worldwide facing persistent drought, predicted water shortages and projected growth.
The process, called by proponents “indirect potable water reuse” and “toilet to tap” by the wary, is getting a close look in several cities.
It’s a clever system, actually, not directly sending the output of the reclamation project to the taps.
[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]
Water. We’ve covered it here before. It’s a universal theme.
Anyone remember the amazing Polanski/Nicholson/Huston/Dunaway film “Chinatown“? Its plot driver was the 1930s surreptitious provision of irrigation water for the orange groves of the San Fernando valley, now the northern bedroom suburbs of Los Angeles.
In the past, MUDGE was always grateful for living quite near one of the Great Lakes, a seemingly reliable and endless resource.
That was then. Now, between wrestling with states and cities in the dry West that would love to get hold of some of that lovely stuff, and fending off the likes of Nestlé, largest marketer of bottled water in the world, whose facility in Michigan has begun to deplete bottomless Lake Michigan, our Great Lakes-adjacent location is not looking so comfortable.
So, technology might provide an answer, as it might for so many of civilization’s issues.
One solution that out of desperation has been tried in many parts of the world is desalinization, the conversion of salt water (¾ of the planet’s surface, or so we’re told) to fresh. After all, California (the state in question) has many hundreds of miles of oceanfront. However, desalinization turns out to be frightfully expensive, both in dollar terms, as well as, I was interested to learn, in environmental terms as well.
Impacts of desalination include brine build-up, increased greenhouse gas emissions, destruction of prized coastal areas and reduced emphasis on conservation of rivers and wetlands. Many of the areas of most intensive desalination activity also have a history of damaging natural water resources, particularly groundwater.
Okay, so I understand it’s a closed system, this Spaceship Earth we all inhabit. Over the course of eons, water cycles through salt and fresh, and the Groundwater Replenishment System called out above is an attempt to provide some of that cyclic advantage, cosmetically at least.
We’ve long taken fresh potable water for granted in the Western world. Our desert west and its growing crisis is only a harbinger.
Like so many of our bedrock expectations, a planet heading for 9billion humans will seismically shift those watery assumptions.
It’s it for now. Thanks,