Geo- Joint: Water’s Everywhere?

Water's Everywhere

Earth is the water planet. 76% of the surface is covered with it, and of course most of that is salty sea water.  In terms of useable water, that source is pretty unhelpful, without the enormous effort of desalinization.  Only about 2.5% of all water on earth is fresh water.  Of that fresh water, nearly 70% is frozen in glaciers and icecaps, and about 30% is in groundwater, at depth.  That leaves about 1.2% of the fresh water as surface and other kinds of fresh water.  But wait, even that paltry 1.2% is itself almost 70% ground ice and permafrost.  Lakes, rivers, swamps and marshes account for less than 25% of the 1.2%!  Are you astounded, or just confused?  See the bar graph below for a more visual explanation.  Suffice it to say there is  darn little fresh water that humans and other animals can easily access to drink, compared to the total existing fresh water.   Here’s another another interesting fact:  at any one time, if all the water in the atmosphere (clouds, fog, etc) fell as evenly-distributed rain, it would only cover the surface of the earth to a depth of about one inch.

Water is a precious resource, making life itself possible, so access to, and the stewardship of, water resources is a hotly contested political subject.  Living in California, we have constant reminders of this reality.  Plans to dig under the Sacramento River Delta to reroute water to more southerly areas, the ongoing feud between Los Angeles and the Owens Valley, and disputes about state water allocation are never out of the news for long.  At least in California, we are relatively civil in sorting out the problems.  Internationally, water access and quality are declining in some poor, heavily populated places.  Parts of Africa, the Middle East and South-central Asia are experiencing drought, over drafting of well water, and pollution of river water, while the number of mouths that demand it is increasing.  Though there have been few actual hostilities growing out of water conflicts, the pressure of a desperate populace to seize water by force may become irresistible.  Statistics show that every minute, about 7 people die of bad water, or from lack of water. If ideological differences can drive people to fight, how much more incentive would be provided by the need to secure the very stuff of life?  One thing preventing massive outbreaks of violence might be the simple fact that poor nations with bad water don’t have the military might to try and take water from their stronger neighbors.  However a situation could develop between two water-hungry and well armed nations who are both intent on tapping an aquifer that sits beneath their common border.  The possible scenarios are manifold but there can be no doubt that we are heading into a world with less good water and more need for it.  Fighting over mere religion or politics may one day become passé.

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