Health of the World's Water

Health of the Worlds Water Systems

 

 

As the economy grows, more water is required. As populations around the world grow, more water is required. When more freshwater is taken out of the hydrological cycle, less water is able to replenish our water reserves.

 

To better understand how water can be taken out of the hydrological cycle, see the Water Footprint Network

 

 

 

 

The earth has a fixed amount of water. You drink the same water today as the dinosaurs drank (and peed out). Today, our planet is over 96% salt water. There is only 0.7672% that is easily accessible fresh water reserves. Of these reserves, groundwater occupies 0.76%, lakes take up 0.007% and rivers hold 0.0002% globally (USGS, 2016)

 

What do we do with this precious water? Many places use it as a sewer to dump human & animal waste and industrial chemicals. Heavy rains scour our lands, taking pesticides, fertilizers and anything else we put on the ground into our lakes, rivers and streams. To see a full breakout of our water supplies, go to the USGS Water Science School website

 

 

 

 

 

GROUND WATER

 

Many places can no longer rely on snowmelt to replenish groundwater supplies the way they used to. It is not raining as consistently as it used to. There are more dry spells and they are happening over a longer period of time. When it does rain, it is more intense, flooding existing natural and manmade infrastructure.

 

Groundwater is being drawn out faster than it can be replaced by nature, creating localized water deficits (Richey, et al., 2015). A recent study of US sub-surface groundwater supplies, noted that between 1900 and 2008 these assets depleted by almost 1,000 km3 (Konikow, 2015). Many scientists see this situation as very unsustainable.

 

Many freshwater resources, including groundwater supplies are treated as sewer systems. Even the best water treatment plants are unable to adequately treat wastewater for micro-plastics, pharmaceuticals and other emerging contaminants. A study of New York and New England septic systems found hormones, pharmaceuticals and other micro-pollutants in the groundwater (Phillips, et al., 2015). This is one study of many that has determined we simply don’t have the technology or the knowledge to pump ‘treated’ wastewater back into our groundwater reserves at this point.

 

 

SURFACE WATER

 

Existing surface water supplies are being affected in many ways (Gordon-Smith, 2012). The South Saskatchewan River Basin, in the Canadian Prairies for example, has been experiencing a 48% decline in water yields in July and August each year, largely due to reduced glacial meltwater.

 

Glaciers

 

In Calgary, Alberta 50% of the freshwater supply comes from glacial melt. There are many cities around the world facing similar challenges, as glaciers around them retreat (Demuth & Pietroniro, 2003) (Mernild, Liston, & Hiemstra, 2014).

 

Between 1985 and 2000, in British Columbia, Canada they lost 21.9 km3 per year from ice and glaciers (Ministry of Environment, 2015). This is an example of a global phenomenon.

 

People around the world rely on snowmelt each year. Snow is a crucial natural water reservoir. Research suggests that ~67% of people in the Norther Hemisphere, up to 2 billion people are likely to be affected by inadequate supply in this century. These populations are expected to go from having a sufficient supply, to having and inadequate supply of fresh water for their needs (Mankin, Viviroli, Singh, Hoekstra, & Diffenbaugh, 2015).

 

One of the more immediate effects of prematurely melting glaciers is the shift of water supply. Instead of providing an ideal supply when agriculture needs it most, the melt will arrive prematurely when rains are much more frequent already, and young crops are easily flooded out. Not only does this impact agriculture, it increases the likelihood of severe surface water flooding (Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, 2014).

 

Snow

 

Annual snowfall is like a bank account. If you don’t put enough in, there will not be enough to sustain you over dry times. Snow seasons are getting shorter and there is a decline in volume year over year. Compare this against more intensive rainfall over a greater portion of the year, interspersed between more severe drought conditions.

 

Warm winds and heat are reducing the natural capacity of soil to retain moisture. In a recent study that considers the potential for snow to supply fresh water today and tomorrow, scientists found 2 billion people are exposed to ~67% risk of decreased snowmelt needed to supply their fresh water needs. Researchers also acknowledge the critical importance of micro-climates and weather extremes. They noted that, long-term trends are becoming less valuable for this type of science. Cities are rapidly recognizing that relying on sufficient snowmelt to supply their fresh water needs is no longer a given. Places like California are realizing snow melt is not sufficient to recover the losses experienced by excessive groundwater depletion (Mankin, Viviroli, Singh, Hoekstra, & Diffenbaugh, 2015).

 

Atmospheric Moisture

 

The ability of the atmosphere to hold moisture increases with temperature. For every 0.6° C rise in atmospheric temperature there is a 4% rise in the atmospheres water-holding capacity. In summer months this translates to more intense rainfall and in the winter this phenomena translates into blizzards. As the ground heats up there is more evaporation, that evaporation goes into the atmosphere can comes back as rain. Because of the ocean currents playing such a role in the distribution of atmosphere moisture, their speed and activity affects the distribution of moisture globally. This means that as the currents slow, so does the travel of atmospheric moisture. This is why some places get torrential rains over and over again, in a short period of time. The ocean currents are not moving fast enough to send the storm off. Snowmageddon occurs with this phenomena. The north east United States for example has experienced a 58% increase in heavy rain events in the past 50 years. This phenomena also explains why droughts are also more frequent. As the storm gets stuck in one place so the hot/dry weather also gets stuck, only somewhere before or after the people being inundated with moisture (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2011). Other surprising outcomes of decreasing glacial outflows. Many locations around the world including Peru and Central Asia rely heavily on hydro power. Hydro power demand increases in the summer, just when the melt is most important. As glaciers retreat there will be less water available when it is needed. Central Asian glacier shrinking from just a 2 degree increase is expected to decrease hydro water availability by 25% (Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, 2014). Recent research measured the Himalayan glaciers water loss at 174 gigatonnes between 2003 and 2009, contributing to catastrophic flooding in the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers. A combination of increased intense rainfall and accelerated glacial melt is inundating huge swaths of countries like Pakistan (Laghari, 2013).

 

According to a BC Hydro Report in Canada annual precipitation has increased 20% over the past century. They recognize that snow melt will start earlier, be substantially higher and the late summer, early fall flow rates will be substantially lower. Precipitation returns to the atmosphere by evaporating or it replenishes groundwater aquifers, streams, rivers and oceans (Jost, 2012).

 

 

A Few Ways Surface and Ground Water becomes Polluted

 

Road Salt

 

Road salt runoff is seriously impacting surface water in the north eastern US. Chloride is toxic and there is no natural process that breaks it down. Urbanization increases the impermeable surfaces available to wash road salt into freshwater bodies. In 2008 New Hampshire identified 19 water bodies impaired by chloride which came from salting winter roads. That number rose to 40 surface water bodies in 2010. Additives and contaminants from road salt can include:

aluminum,

cadmium.

calcium,

chromium

copper,

ferrocyanide,

iron,

lead,

magnesium,

manganese,

nickel,

phosphorus,

potassium,

zinc,

(NH Dept of Environmental Services, 2014) (Siegel, 2007) (Corsi, Graczyk, Geis, Booth, & Richards, 2010)

 

Waste Water Treatment and Storm Sewer Connections in the North American Great Lakes

 

The American Great Lakes water system makes up the largest freshwater resource on earth {84% of North America’s fresh water supply} (US EPA, 2015). Wastewater treatment plants have been discharging their ‘treated’ water and untreated wastewater into this freshwater supply, for over 100 years (Arvai, Klecka, Jasim, Melcer, & Laitta, 2014). More recently personal care products have entered our wastewater stream. These chemicals known as PCP’s residues have been found deposited in the Great Lake waterways in sufficient quantities to threaten aquatic organism health. These residues are especially concentrated around lakeshores and around outfall pipes. Ingredients include:

Acetaminophen,

caffeine,

Carbamazepine,

Codeine,

Diltiazem

Diphenhydramine,

Fluoxetine,

paraxanthine,

Sulfamethoxazole,

Sulfanilamide

Triclocarban,

Triclosan,

Trimethoprim (Blair, Crago, Hedman, & Klaper, 2013)

In 2011 it was estimated that 18.7 billion gallons of combined sewer overflow and stormwater runoff went into the Great Lakes (Lyandres & Welch, 2012)

 

When plastic pollution concentrations were compared (plastic concentration in water), it appears that the Great Lakes are becoming as polluted as the plastic garbage patches . Concentrations in the great lakes are recorded as 0.0425 items/m2. The average concentration of micro plastics in the three plastic garbage patches in the oceans is 0.127 items/m2. The pollution ranges in size from micro grains to large plastic objects like plastic bags and marine shipping debris (Castaneda, Avlijas, Simard, & Ricciardi, 2014). Canada legally classified microbeads as toxins in 2015 (Environment Canada, 2015).

 

Algae

 

Many people have seen or read about algae blooms often in surface water when the weather gets warm. What is not so well known is the reality that up to 80% of algae found in North America has developed an internal toxin. When algae dies or water treatment systems burst, the cell wall releases a toxin which can remain in the water system for up to 3 weeks. If there are few bacterial proteases (algae toxin predators) the toxins have been found to persist for months or years. Microcystis have been found to survive boiling, so boiling your water is not a solution. Liver damage is the most common cause of death from exposure to this toxin. Livestock and wildlife are the most common fatalities on record. Human oral uptake has yet to find conclusive connection with oral consumption of this toxin. However a recent study compared the incidence of cyanobacteria blooms and non-alcoholic liver disease and found a statistically significant association between non-alcoholic liver disease and cyanobacterial blooms in the contiguous United States, especially in coastal areas (Zhang, Lee, Liang, & CK, 2015) (Butler, Carlisle, Linville, & Washburn, 2009).

 

The United States Environmental Protection Agency did a literature review in 2007. They found 80% of the water samples assessed in 564 Canadian and US cities were positive for Microcystins. 4.3% of those locations had sample readings above World Health Organization drinking water guidelines. The review also found that the toxin persisted for up to two months following a visible algae bloom retreat (USEPA, 2007).

 

Drought

 

Drought is simply the other side of the flood coin. Both conditions are driven by water. One is driven by water loss, the other by water overabundance. Both floods and droughts cause devastation. Poor water management leads to drought conditions. When soil retains moisture, plants are healthier. When beneficial organic matter is removed, what is left amounts to a dust bowl.

 

 

Impacts of Drought

 

•Western Canada in 2015 endured 3.25 million hectares of woodland destruction (four times the 25 year average).

 

•British Columbia experienced a 100 year low for stream and meltwater runoff. Reservoirs were in critical condition, and places like Victoria only received 30% of normal moisture, resulting in the lowest rainfall total over four months in history.

 

•Victoria, Britiswh Columbia, Canada's Airport recorded total rainfall between May 1 and August 31 2015 was 34mm. This was 30% of ‘normal’ precipitation levels (CMOS-SCMO, 2015)

 

•British Columbia’s annual climate change report card notes, that the lower mainland (Georgia Depression) has seen a total precipitation rise 23% over the past century. The report also notes that the runoff from rain events exceeds municipal infrastructure capacity to cope, leading to flooding and water damage (Ministry of Environment, 2015).

 

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Integrated water resource management looks at ways to limit the effects of excess runoff on surface water health and increase the renewal of groundwater supplies. It considers ALL water resources not just surface and groundwater, but WHOLE WATER.

 

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