Tuesday, March 23, 2021

World Water Day 2021 in Review

 World Water Day 2021 (in the rear-view mirror): Valuing Water.

World Water Day (March 22, 2021) is past (www.WorldWaterDay.org)...   By now you should have taken the Water Day Quiz at SustainZine. It’s been about 10 years since I developed such a quiz. I had to work to improve and update the original quiz… It is still tricky to get good answers to some of these water-critical issues. Often the water usage is available to the homeowner, but gets confusing as the data is aggregated for the state and for the nation. The more abstract uses of water, like virtual water, are erratic and imprecise. Important concepts, but the answers are fuzzy.

Here is my Water Day Quiz for 2021; if you haven’t already done it, please complete before going further. It’s important to know what you know, and what you don’t know related to water systems. It is surprisingly hard to develop this quiz because the numbers are all over the map. I have 15 multiple guess questions. Answer them all before starting to Google the answers. For which questions do you have a high confidence in your original answer? I’m trying to use current stats; different sources give different estimates, sometimes old news is no longer accurate (maybe it never was accurate). I generally used US and US units of measure unless specifically indicated otherwise. Answers, scoring and sources are presented in the next sections.

Thanks for playing the game. It’s a serious game though, because lives and livelihoods now and into the future depend on how we sustainably address water issues.

Water Facts: The Water Resources of Earth

Over 70% of our Earth's surface is covered by water (we should really call our planet "Ocean" instead of "Earth"). Although water is seemingly abundant, the real issue is the amount of fresh water available. 

  • 97.5% of all water on Earth is salt water, leaving only 2.5% as fresh water 
  • Nearly 70% of that fresh water is frozen in the icecaps of Antarctica and Greenland; most of the remainder is present as soil moisture, or lies in deep underground aquifers as groundwater not accessible to human use. 
  • < 1% of the world's fresh water (~0.007% of all water on earth) is accessible for direct human uses. This is the water found in lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and those underground sources that are shallow enough to be tapped at an affordable cost. Only this amount is regularly renewed by rain/snowfall, and is therefore available on a sustainable basis. Source:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_distribution_on_Earth

With water everywhere (70% of the earth’s surface), it is hard to image people without fresh drinking water and clean sanitation, but the numbers are pretty ugly. About 780M people do not have running water according to the World Health Organization (www.WHO.INT); but you might see 2.1B (about 25% of the world’s population) who don’t have clean running water at home. And probably about 2B do not have safe septic/sewer (https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/sanitation) Who estimates that 4.5B (almost 60%) of the world’s population do not have safe toilets at home.   (Some people might argue, that if you don’t have clean septic, you really don’t have clean water, because it gets contaminated in normal household operations.)

The health implications of this are massive. Direct ailments, hospitalizations and deaths are staggering. Poor water and sanitation contribute to diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio.  A WHO study in 2012 estimated that for “every US$ 1.00 invested in sanitation, there was a return of US$ 5.50 in lower health costs, more productivity, and fewer premature deaths.”

Probably 50% of the US fresh water is polluted… as in no swimming, and you should not eat the fish (if any). If it is that bad in the US, imagine how horrible it is in some of the developing countries. In short, we need to stop treating water like dirt! And definitely stop use rivers and streams as a sewer dump.

How much water do you use per day?

Indirectly and directly, the average person in the US uses more than 1,500 to 2,000 gallons of water per day. This varies a lot by season and by area. Let’s start with the more direct usages of water. The EPA provides average usage at home:

·         300 gallons per household directly. (roughly 120 gals per person)

·         210 gallons (70%) of that water used in households is indoors, mostly in the bathroom (toilets, showers, faucets)

·         12%-13% of indoor water used is wasted from leaks!

·         Much of the outdoor water is wasted as well. 

Use EPA resources here: https://www.epa.gov/watersense/how-we-use-water.
Ensia provides a great visualization including state-by-state differences:
Various sources give higher averages. Compute your own water footprint based on your lifestyle here:

How many gallons of water does it take to…?

Water to power a 60-Watt light bulb? It takes a lot of water to generate electricity using coal, natural gas or nuclear power. Nuclear requires the most water to generate electricity. Estimates are that it takes between 3,000 and 6,000 gallons of water to produce electricity for a 60-watt light bulb, 12 hours per day, for a year! Heating water (NatGas, Coal, Nuclear) for steam turbine power generation uses lots of water; they generally take water out of the river and return most of it further downstream after partial cooling (maybe 10% evaporates, however). If the water source dries up (or freezes) the power plant may need to be idled. Hydro electric from dams simply redirects the downstream flow of the water, so the water impact is in the change in water flows (when power is needed) and evaporation of the increased surface area in a dam.

Wind power and photovoltaic solar power do not use any water in operations to produce electricity. The power mix of the local utility determines the savings of water and CO2 each year from a switch to solar power on the home or business.

Buying an electric vehicle (EV) may not be such a great savings if charged from the local power utility that has a heavy footprint. Installing solar and charging mainly from direct sun power is much better.

But what about gasoline (before adding in a 10% ethanol mix)?

It takes lots and lots of water to produce oil. The drilling process, conventional or fracking, takes huge amounts of water, and it contaminates water. Fracking for oil (and NatGas) can produce about 0.5 barrels of waste water for every barrel of oil (Duke University citing a 2015 fracking study: https://today.duke.edu/2015/09/frackfoot). But then the crude has to be refined, which takes energy and water. There is less processing needed for jet fuel and diesel, but gasoline requires about 0.7 gallons of water per gallon of fuel.

Ethanol requires a surprising amount of water during procession. Ethanol from corn, for example, requires about 10 gallons of water for every gallon produced; and that’s not counting the water required to grow the corn, if corn is the ethanol feedstock. It takes a whopping 20-30 gallons of water to make the corn needed for 1 gallon of ethanol. (It takes about 1.25 gallons of ethanol, however, to make the equivalent power as 1 gallon of gasoline.)

Water to create a pound of food? (See Water Calculator on this.). It takes a lot of water to grow crops, and a massive amount to produce animals for food. This has been referred to as virtual water. It takes 37 gallons of water for a cup of coffee counting everything from grow coffee beans, to cleaning them, and to brewing the coffee.  To grow a pound of potatoes requires only 31 gallons; beans, 43; and corn, 109. BUT it requires a huge amount of water to produce animal products, since you have to grow the corn or hay first in order to feed it to animals. It requires 371 gallons to produce a pound of cheese; eggs, 400 (8 x 2oz); chicken, 469; pork, 756; and 1,857 gallons of water to produce a single pound of beef. Wow! Not only is it healthier for you to eat lower on the food chain, but it would save massive amounts of water (and energy).

Oh, and it requires a huge amount of water to produce clothes too -- to grow the cotton, but the water intensive processing required to make cloth and ultimately clothes. It takes 2,000+ gallons of water to produce one pair of blue jeans!  Countries that are net importers of foods, clothes and other finished products are, essentially, also importing water inherent in them. (See https://www.watercalculator.org/footprint/the-hidden-water-in-everyday-products/)

The Nexus of Water and Energy. As you can see, power generation and food production require large amounts of water. Similarly, water requires energy in many ways. Hydroelectric generation from water in dams is a direct relationship. Other requirements of energy are simply to get water from wherever it is, to wherever it is needed. Energy is needed to purify water. It takes about 10% of the energy produced in the US to move water around and process it.

With only about 1% of the world’s water as available fresh water, an obvious way to get fresh water is desalination of salt water. Unfortunately, desalinization is rather expensive. It is much easier and cheaper to pump water from the mainland to islands (St. Petersburg and Key West).

It takes a lot of water (and typically oil and NatGas) to make plastics. Lots of energy, and lots of water, to mine, refine, manufacture and ship everything. Recyclings of plastics, paper and metals still takes water and energy, but far less than the resources used than the original products that started in the mines.

Oh… If you want to know your water footprint you can go here: http://waterfootprint.org/en/resources/interactive-tools/personal-water-footprint-calculator/

The last time I ran the calculator it estimates that I consume about 2,100 cubic meters of water per year.  If my math is right, that is about 1,800 gallons per day! The US average is more than 1,000. 

So What Can I Do Right Now?

Measure and monitor. You need to measure and monitor regularly to have a consistent impact on your usage, and your improved savings from each initiative.

Savings. Reduce what you use saves you money, saves resources, and saves water. Directly, you can usually use 20 to 25% less water in homes. Each state and most counties will offer water savings tips that are relevant to the locale; in Volusia County Florida here are 25 tips. https://www.volusia.org/services/growth-and-resource-management/environmental-management/natural-resources/water-conservation/25-ways-to-save-water.stml

The gallon that is never saved, and never used, is called a NegaGallon.

As you have seen, most of the water you used is indirectly, so reducing travel and using less electricity are important places to start.

Telework. Some of us are getting tired of Zoom meetings, but the savings are massive from telework (and other types of avoided travel). The NegaGallon of gasoline is petrol that is never used and therefore never drilled, refined, shipped, and burned in your car.

Electricity. Do an energy audit if you haven’t already done so; it’s free from your local power utility. Energy-ize your home and businesses. NegaWatt. That’s the kilowatt of power that you never used: it never had to be fracked, piped to a refinery, shipped to the power plant, burned to produce power. No trees were killed, no greenhouse gasses produced.

So What?

So energy and water are very closely interconnected. It’s important to conserving water and to use it wisely. Unfortunately, as with most things sustainability-related, the people who deal with energy, don’t generally deal with water management, and vice versa. Sustainability requires an integrated approach to most things, especially water and energy.

Imagine what happens if the rest of the world consumed resources as we do. The Water Use Around the Word InfoGraphic shows that US water use is 156 per person per day, but we know that the real number is 10 times that, all things considered. And our usage is twice that of Europe (France) and 4x India. What happens if they start to consume at the same rate as we? Plus, what happens as we move toward 10B world population? 

Expect that water and water management will become far more important in the future. Probably as important as oil is currently. You should see more disputes over water by states and countries. This topic is, accurately, called Water Wars. 


·         Use EPA starting here: https://www.epa.gov/watersense/how-we-use-water.
Ensia provides a great visualization including state-by-state differences:

·         World Water Day 2021 website: https://www.unwater.org/worldwaterday2021/

·         UN World Water Development Report 2021: www.unwater.org/publication_categories/world-water-development-report

·         UN-Water SDG 6 Data Portal: www.sdg6data.org


·         WaterFootprint Calculator: https://www.watercalculator.org/footprint/the-water-footprint-of-energy/

·         www.WaterMatters.org  (Great, including Florida specific info.)

·         http://www.worldwaterday.org/  

·         www.UNWater.org

·         www.savewaterfl.com  (For details & water-saving tips.)

·         Bottled Water and Energy: A Fact Sheet http://www.pacinst.org/topics/water_and_sustainability/bottled_water/bottled_water_and_energy.html (old source)

·         EPA on Water http://www.epa.gov/WaterSense/pubs/waterenergy.html

·         Save Water Save Energy brochure: http://www.epa.gov/WaterSense/docs/drops-to-watts508.pdf (including facts).

·         Couple cool Energy-Water Nexus sites: http://www.eeweek.org/water_and_energy_wise/connection and

·         Virtual Water: https://mywaterearth.com/what-is-virtual-water/

Tips and easy means to save water.

• FIRST. Measure and monitor. Your pump should not be coming on when no activity is happening; your meter should not be moving when all water is turned off. Most utilities charge more as you consume (waste?) higher volumes of water.

• In your house check for leaks from faucets and pipes; even the smallest drip can waste as much as 75 liters (20 gals) a day.

In the bathroom:
Flush less — remember the toilet is not an ashtray or wastebasket.

• While brushing teeth, shaving, etc., turn off the water.

• When cold water will do, avoid using hot water.

• Take shorter showers — 5 minutes or less.

• In the shower, wet yourself down, turn the water off, lather up, then turn the water on to rinse off soap.

In the kitchen:
• Operate the dishwasher only when you have a full load.

• Scrape, don’t rinse, your dishes before loading in the dishwasher. Run when full.

• When purchasing a dishwasher, consider a water-efficient model.

• Thaw frozen food in the refrigerator or microwave, not under running water.

• Store drinking water in the refrigerator instead of letting the tap run while you wait for cool water to flow.

• When washing dishes by hand, fill one sink or basin with soapy water and fill the rinsing sink to one-third or one-half full
— avoid letting the water run continuously in the rinsing sink.

In the laundry:
• For washers with variable settings for water volume, select the minimum amount required per load.

• If load size cannot be set, operate the washer with full loads only.

• Use the shortest wash cycle for lightly soiled loads; normal and permanent press wash cycles use more water.

• Check hoses regularly for leaks.

• Pre-treat stains to avoid rewashing.

In the Yard:
• Most sprinkler systems waste a lot of water. Frequently, they waste more than they (should) use. Install rain sensors. Carefully monitor the coverage. Change level and frequency based on season.

• Try to switch to reclaimed water; it doesn’t need to be processed as much as potable city water. Plus, many cities charge for the water you use assuming that all of it also goes into the sewer system (separate, but equal, sewer water charges).

• Plant local friendly (Florida friendly) and low care landscapes. 

The World Health Organization (Who.INT) offers these key water facts:

  • In 2017, 71% of the global population (5.3 billion people) used a safely managed drinking-water service – that is, one located on premises, available when needed, and free from contamination.
  • 90% of the global population (6.8 billion people) used at least a basic service. A basic service is an improved drinking-water source within a round trip of 30 minutes to collect water.
  • 785 million people lack even a basic drinking-water service, including 144 million people who are dependent on surface water.
  • Globally, at least 2 billion people use a drinking water source contaminated with faeces.
  • Contaminated water can transmit diseases such diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio. Contaminated drinking water is estimated to cause 485 000 diarrhoeal deaths each year.
  • By 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas.
  • In least developed countries, 22% of health care facilities have no water service, 21% no sanitation service, and 22% no waste management service.

 Source: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/drinking-water

#WorldWaterDay #WorldWaterDay2021 #ValuingWater #Water2Me #WaterEnergyNexus #WaterFoodNexus #SustainZine

1 comment:

  1. By now you realize that the last answer is the best answer, except for the price of water in a rather typical town in Florida (less than 0.6 cents). A typical score would have only a few of these answers correct. The main point is that we all should know more about water and water issues than we do. The World Water Day suggests that we really should Value Water more than we do! :-)