Driven By Climate Change, Desalination Researchers Seek Solutions To Water Scarcity

One alternative source of water that regions are increasingly investing in is desalination. (Jean Chung/Getty Images)

One alternative source of water that regions are increasingly investing in is desalination. (Jean Chung/Getty Images)

The state of California has dedicated $34 million for eight desalination facilities across the state amid growing concerns about water scarcity in the U.S.

Desalination is when saltwater is converted into freshwater. Though 71% of the Earth is made up of water, extreme weather linked to climate change is adding to concerns about water scarcity.

Scentists estimate that by 2071, nearly half of the 204 freshwater basins in the U.S. may not be able to meet the monthly demand for water, according to a study published in the journal Earth’s Future.

Extracting salt from water seems like an easy fix to a global problem, but the process of desalination can be expensive, and it can also have a huge impact on the environment. That’s why some researchers are looking into how to lower the cost and improve efficiency.

Desalination technology can cost anywhere between two to 10 times the cost of traditional freshwater sources, says Meagan Mauter, research director for the National Alliance for Water Innovation and an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University.

“I think it’s very important to think about seawater desalination as one part of a much broader water portfolio,” she says. “In the same way that we don’t rely solely on solar panels to provide electricity, we shouldn’t be thinking about relying solely on next-generation desalination facilities to provide water.”

Mauter says desalination costs so much because of the amount of energy needed to separate salt from water, she says.

“The National Alliance for Water Innovation is really built on the premise that to drop costs and to reduce energy intensity, we need to look at the broader network of water management in order to drop those costs,” Mauter says. “So broadly, the costs of managing water are the combination of the costs of treating water, plus the costs of distributing water and collecting wastewater.”

The amount of energy needed for the desalination process also negatively affects the environment. Most of the current technology is tailored for large scale desalination projects, but building technology on a smaller scale could offset the financial and environmental impacts, Mauter says.

“It’ll drop the overall energy intensity of that combined treatment and distribution,” she says. “And second, novel ways of managing concentrate at smaller scales will help us avoid the need to do lots of seawater desalination to augment supply.”

Climate change is not only expected to affect the amount of available water, but it will also impact “the timing at which that water is delivered or naturally stored,” Mauter says. Making the electricity system more energy efficient is also “deeply connected” to the water supply.

“The process of decarbonizing our electricity system or our energy system is itself going to require lots of water treatment capabilities,” she says. “Underlying that is a tremendous need for new desalination technologies that integrate well with the electricity system.”

While desalination is more costly and energy intensive than some other water sources, it does provide water resilience for municipalities because it is not subject to drought, changes in precipitation or snowpack, Mauter says.

“I think it’s also critically important for municipalities to think about other sources of resiliency,” she says. “That could be through water conservation, that could be through ensuring the safety and longevity of water storage, and that could be through supporting water reuse inside of the municipalities.” SOURCE

10 Critical Water Scarcity Facts We Must Not Ignore

Image result for resilience: 10 Critical Water Scarcity Facts We Must Not Ignore

Why is water scarcity a legitimate concern?

It is true that the hydrologic cycle, the process in which the earth circulates water throughout its ecosystems, is a closed-loop cycle that neither adds nor takes away water. In theory, the amount of water on earth will always remain the same.

The problem therein is when the hydrologic cycle is disrupted and water which normally gets distributed to a certain area no longer does so. This is precisely why some regions are becoming arider while others are experiencing flooding and other natural disasters.

In this article, we’ll discuss the role that humans play in the global water crisis and we’ll cover the 10 most alarming water scarcity facts that we shouldn’t ignore.

The Alarming Human Factor in Water Management

Humans play a large role in the disruption of the hydrologic cycle.

  • The excessive building of dams prevents rivers from distributing mineral-rich water to areas that are dependent on the nutrients for plant growth.
  • Pollution caused by large factories can render freshwater sources such as lakes and rivers unusable.
  • The constant paving of roads seals the surface of the ground, preventing it from soaking up rainfall and replenishing the underground aquifers, a very vital part of the hydrologic cycle.
  • Excessive drilling into the ground can disrupt the structure of the bedrock, potentially allowing fresh groundwater to be contaminated with seawater.
  • Bottled water privatization creates a monopoly on a resource that should otherwise be available to the people who live in the region where the water is located.

As the world’s population increases the demand for the required amount of water necessary to sustain large communities does as well. While water is involved in the sustenance of virtually every aspect of a human’s life, the production of food makes up the majority of it. Agriculture accounts for over 70% of the world’s water consumption. And to produce enough food required for each person’s daily caloric intake, 2000–3000 Liters of water is required (FAO).

While there are organizations such as the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization that are addressing the water crisis on a global scale, there are still regional problems that vary from region to region. Much of the world’s water supply is largely disproportionate. The average American family uses about 500 gallons of water per day, while the average African family uses 5 gallons per day. If the entire volume of freshwater were to be distributed evenly among all the earth’s inhabitants, each person would receive 1,320,860 gallons of water, each year (FAO).

Let us look at the 10 most alarming water scarcity facts that the world is currently facing.

1) By 2025, Half of the World’s Population will be Living in Water-Stressed Areas

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With the increasing demand for clean water and the steady growth of the world’s population, areas which are already water stressed will get worse, and the amount of water-stressed areas around the world will increase. Though these terms are often used interchangeably, some experts in the field have made a distinction between water scarcity and water stress for the sake of accuracy.

According to the CEO Water Mandatewater scarcity can be defined as the shortage in the physical volume of water in a given region, whereas water stress can is defined as the ability, or lack thereof, to access and meet the necessary human demand for water. For example, an arid region such as Sudan which gets little to no rainfall and has no aquifers or surface water would be experiencing water scarcity due to the sheer lack of volume. However, an area which has a limited supply of freshwater from an aquifer or lake, but is challenged due to the increasing demand of the population or the lack of means to access it efficiently, can be considered a water stressed region.

UNESCO predicts that 1.8 billion people will be experiencing water scarcity and half of the world will be living in water stressed conditions by 2025. Climate change, population growth, agricultural demands, and mismanagement of water resources all contribute to the growing global water crisis. Due to water scarcity, some 24 to 700 million people will be displaced from arid and semi-arid regions of the world.

2) The World’s Population will Raise to 9.7 Billion by 2050, Leaving Much in Water-Stressed Conditions

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With the steady increase of the global population, the demand for water increases. In places where water is already scarce, this can lead to geopolitical conflict. 60% of all surface water on earth comes from river basins shared by separate nations and almost 600 aquifers cross national boundaries.

In addition to an increase in population, excessive water use increases the demand for water. More people living in urban areas require more water to maintain a certain standard of living. The global population increased by three-fold in the 20th century but water use increased by six-fold. As incomes increase and urbanization develops, food choices shift toward richer, more water-dependent means of production (FAO).

There will be a 40% gap between the demand for water and the availability of water by the year 2030.

The global population is expected to raise to 9.7 billion by the year 2050 and the number of people who live in urban areas is expected to double. By 2050, 3.9 billion people, or 40% of world’s population, will live in severely water-stressed areas (INWEH).

3) Three in Ten People on Earth Currently do not Have Access to Safe and Clean Water

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The World Health Organization, a leader in global water data and planning, has categorized water accessibility into 5 groups: safely managed water sources, basic water sources, limited water sources, unimproved water sources, and surface water.

  • Safely Managed water sources can be defined as a managed drinking water service that is located on the premises of a home or residence, is accessible whenever needed, and is free from contamination. Examples of safely managed water sources are kitchen faucets and taps drawn from a local reservoir where water is treated under municipal guidelines.
  • Basic water sources are defined as improved water sources which are no further than 30 minutes for round trip access, but are not necessarily always free from contamination or accessible when needed. An example of a basic water source would be a community water station supplying a small village which may not always produce water when accessed.
  • Limited water sources fit the description of a basic water source but are further than a 30 minute round trip
  • Unimproved water sources include unprotected wells or springs
  • Surface Water includes water collected directly from a river, dam, lake, or stream

According to the WHO, 2.1 billion people, which is 3 in 10 worldwide, do not have access to a safely managed water source. 844 million people do not even have access to a basic water source. 263 million people have to travel over 30 minutes just to access water that isn’t even clean, and 159 million still drink from untreated surface water sources.

4) One in Three People Worldwide do not Have Access to a Toilet

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The WHO also categorizes sanitation services in to safely managed, basic, limited, unimproved, and open defecation.

  • Safely Managed sanitation systems can be defined as the use of improved facilities that aren’t shared with another household, and where waste is safely disposed of or transported off site.
  • Basic sanitation systems are the use of improved facilities that aren’t shared with another household.
  • Limited sanitation systems are the use of improved facilities shared with two or more households
  • Unimproved sanitation is the use of pit latrines without platform or bucket latrines
  • Open Defecation involves the disposal of human waste in fields, bushes, open bodies of water, or other open spaces.

According to the WHO, 2.3 billion people, that’s 1 in 3 worldwide, lack access to even basic sanitation services. The majority of these people either practice open defecation or use unimproved sanitation such as pit latrines and buckets.

Safely managed sanitation systems are designed to remove human waste away from human contact. Those without safe systems run the risk of having their water supply become contaminated with human waste. The WHO reports that at least 2 billion people worldwide consume water form a source that is contaminated with feces. Fecal contamination in the water supply is a major cause of deadly waterborne diseases such as Hepatitis A, Norovirus, and E Coli.

5) 1.6 Million People Die Every Year From Waterborne Diseases

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One of the most devastating effects of the global water crisis are the numerous waterborne diseases that come as a result of poor sanitation and water quality. In developing countries, almost half of the population can link health problems to waterborne diseases (Global Water Institute). Annually, about 5 million people contract diseases related to waterborne pathogens around the world, most of them children. Of the 5 million reported cases, 1.6 are fatal.

Diseases such as Typhoid Fever, Shigellosis, Hepatitis A, and Legionnaire’s Disease can be fatal if left untreated, but are preventable with proper water purification practices, improved sanitation systems, and proper education. Reducing exposure to contaminated water can greatly reduce the risk of disease.

6) Water Privatization Causes More Harm than Good to the Region which the Water is Taken From

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Bottled water has certainly brought convenience and security to those who might not have easy access to clean water. However, the privatization of some clean water sources has major downsides for the residents who live near them.

When a municipal utility source such as public water or electricity struggles to maintain itself due to budgeting issues and poor infrastructure, they’ll often sell their rights to a private corporation to take over. While this may seem to be beneficial in the short term, local residents who rely on the water source ultimately suffer.

Because the utility is now owned by a private company rather than a governmental body, the company is now accountable to stockholders, not to the residents. Residents now no longer have representation in corporate affairs. Rather, a natural monopoly is created where water, the commodity, is sold at a much higher price. Because water is a regional resource, competition for lower prices is unlikely.

Privately owned water sources typically charge households 59% more than publically owned sources (Food and Water). Private sewer services are typically 63% more costly.

Nestle, one of the largest corporations in the world, owns 50 springs throughout the United States (Food Empowerment Project). Betchel, the fifth largest corporation in the US, took over the water supply of a region in Bolivia in 1999 and raised rates by 300%, making it impossible for the people of the region to access their water. Coca-Cola pumps 1.5 million liters of water a day from a small town in Plachimada, India, leaving farmers without enough water to make a living.

7) In the US, 2.1 Trillion Gallons of Clean Water is Lost Each Year Due to Poor Infrastructure

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Poor infrastructure is a major contributor to the loss of clean water and the potential contamination that wastewater can cause. According to the Institute for Water, Environment, and Health, due to poor wastewater management, 80% of all wastewater is returned to the environment without being properly treated. 30% of all clean water is lost through leakage and deteriorating pipes (INWEH).

In the United States alone, 2.1 trillion gallons of clean, treated water is lost each year due to old, leaky pipes and broken water mains. David Le France, CEO of the American Water Works Association, estimates that repairing America’s water infrastructure will be a trillion-dollar program (NPR).

Water infrastructure is largely a governance issue. Due to divided efforts in governmental decision making, adequate policies and budgeting are often difficult to come by.

8) Women Walk an Average Distance of 4 Miles Every Day Just to Fetch Water that is Likely Contaminated

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Gender roles as they relate to water scarcity in developing countries differ from those in the West. Women and young girls are expected to take the responsibility of gathering the needed amount of water to sustain their family on a daily basis.

In Africa, 90% of work involved in gathering water and preparing food are done by women. In both Africa and Asia, women walk an average distance of 4 miles every day, which takes about 6 hours, to carry a 44-pound container of water for their household, from a water source which has the potential to make them sick (Global Water Institute). It is estimated that women and children spend around 40 billion hours a year gathering water in sub-Saharan African countries.

9) One-Third of the World’s Largest Aquifers are Water-Stressed

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While surface water has been the primary means of collection for human use, groundwater continues to be an important clean water source for regions where surface water isn’t as available. Groundwater can be accessed via wells or through groundwater pumping. As part of the hydrologic cycle, groundwater is naturally replenished through rainfall and surface water. But when the amount of groundwater being extracted exceeds the rate at which it replenishes, it remains in a deficit known as groundwater depletion. It is very difficult to determine the exact amount of groundwater contained in the aquifers underneath the earth’s surface, but with satellite technology, scientists can make rough estimates as to the volume of water that remains.

Water Resources Research categorizes the stress levels of groundwater into 4 categories: unstressed, human-dominated variable stress, variable stress, and overstressed.

  • An unstressed groundwater source has a water table that hasn’t dropped below its normal height and is replenishing naturally.
  • human-dominated variable stressed groundwater source is being extracted of water at a low rate, but is still at an adequate water level and is replenishing naturally as expected.
  • variable stressed groundwater source is still being recharged either naturally or artificially, but has a water table that has lowered beyond its normal height due excessive extraction of water.
  • An overstressed groundwater source is not being recharged and has a water table that continues to drop due to excessive extraction.

According to the WRR, 37 of the world’s largest aquifers are variably stressed to overstressed. 8 of them, including the aquifers in Saudi Arabia, North Western India and Pakistan, are not being recharged at all.

10) Meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for the Water Crisis will Cost $114 Billion per year

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While implementing reasonable plans for providing clean water and rebuilding infrastructure are necessary for addressing the world’s concerns, it certainly won’t be cheap. The UN has proposed a series of sustainable development goals for a brighter, more self-sustaining future for the earth, with #6 addressing the global water crisis. While these goals are comprehensive and well-informed, attaining these goals will be time-consuming, expensive, and may face political division. It is estimated that in order to reach these goals, it will cost $114 Billion dollars every year until 2030.

The truth is that maintaining clean water sources are very expensive. Even large corporations, whilst motives are mostly internally focused, spend millions of dollars a year maintaining clean water sources for their production. The British Oil and Gas company spent $938 Million to irrigate water from a gasfield to farming fields in Australia (AKVO). Rio Tinto spent $3 Billion for a desalination plant in Chile.

As costly as maintaining the proper sources for clean water may be, the cost of not doing so is also high. $260 Billion are spent globally on addressing healthcare needs due to water related diseases and poor sanitation (INWEH).

To Summarize

Water scarcity is real. To ignore it, or to assume that it is only a problem of the developing world is to be blind to the errors our egos have cause. We in the Western world waste more water in a day than some families around the world would see in months. Much of what we use water for is to sustain a lifestyle that we largely take for granted. Our inward focus has blinded us to a reality that the rest of the world is experiencing. Whether we recognize it or not is irrelevant. Sooner or later, even we in the West will feel the effects of water scarcity in one way or another.

What we can start to do is to limit our water intake. Excessive water consumption and poor water management are factors that we can control immediately. Supporting clean water initiatives will certainly help the movement against the global water crisis. Finally, educating ourselves and raising awareness is a task we all should all take on. Please share this article if you’ve found it helpful.

Kenya Installs the First Solar Plant That Transforms Ocean Water Into Drinking Water

Kenya installs the first solar plant that transforms ocean water into drinking water, and it could be the solution to the global lack of water

The Earth is a watery place. In fact, 71 percent of our planet is covered in water [1]. Despite this, one in nine people do not have access to safe drinking water – that’s around 785 million people [2].

The trouble is, 96.5 percent of all Earth’s water is found in the oceans in the form of saline water, and is not drinkable for humans. That only leaves us with rivers, lakes, and groundwater to satisfy our water needs [1].

According to the World Economic Forum, the global water crisis ranks as the number four risk in terms of impact on society [3]. Let’s face it – humans need water to survive.

If you’re reading this from Canada or the United States, you may not understand this crisis on a personal level. After all, you can turn on a tap and have safe drinking water instantly start flowing from the faucet. This, however, is not the case for billions of people living on other continents. One NGO (Non-Government Organization) is trying to change that.

GivePower

Give Power’s mission is to install solar energy technologies that will bring essential services to developing communities in need [4]. Their most recent break-through project installed a solar-powered desalination system to bring clean, healthy water to the people in Kiunga, a rural village in Kenya [4].

With this technology, the salty ocean water will now be a viable source of water for the people living in this village. The system is capable of producing about 70 thousand litres or drinkable water every day, which is enough for up to 35 thousand people [4].

The Global Water Crisis

This ground-breaking new process could not come any sooner. The 785 million people mentioned earlier is just beginning. According to the World Health Organization, around 2.2 billion people worldwide do not have access to safely-managed water services, 4.2 billion people do not have safely managed sanitation services, and three-thousand-million lack basic facilities for washing hands [9].  MORE

SAUDI ARABIA DENIES ITS KEY ROLE IN CLIMATE CHANGE EVEN AS IT PREPARES FOR THE WORST

Smoke billows from an Aramco oil facility in Abqaiq about 60km (37 miles) southwest of Dhahran in Saudi Arabia's eastern province on September 14, 2019. - Drone attacks sparked fires at two Saudi Aramco oil facilities early today, the interior ministry said, in the latest assault on the state-owned energy giant as it prepares for a much-anticipated stock listing. Yemen's Iran-aligned Huthi rebels claimed the drone attacks, according to the group's Al-Masirah television. (Photo by - / AFP)        (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
Smoke billows after drone attacks sparked fires at two Saudi Aramco oil facilities in Saudi Arabia’s eastern province on Sept. 14, 2019. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

ANYONE WHO WAS still questioning whether climate change can exacerbate violent international conflicts has only to look at Saudi Arabia, where drones struck oil installations in the eastern part of the country on September 14. While the Trump administration is blaming Iran, Houthis in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack on Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil company, which is both the source of the kingdom’s vast wealth and, as the world’s largest corporate emitter of greenhouse gases, one of the primary drivers of the climate emergency making life increasingly difficult throughout the region.

Rising temperatures have exacerbated water shortages in Yemen, where some 19 million people already lacked access to clean water and sanitation due to mismanagement and drought. Saudis have weaponized this water scarcity in their war in Yemen, targeting areas for their proximity to fertile land and destroying water infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is also facing some of the worst risks from soaring temperatures. This summer, the temperature in Al Majmaah, a city in central Saudi Arabia, reached 131 degrees Fahrenheit, while rapid desertification was reported throughout the Arabian peninsula.

Saudi Aramco, the most profitable corporation in the world, released more than 40 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases between 1992 and 2017, the equivalent of almost 5 percent of industrial carbon dioxide and methane. The company, closely held by the Saudi royal family, is now confronting the challenges of climate change in ways that mirror many western fossil fuel giants: by launching a rebranding effort that positions the firm as an environmental leader. MORE