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View Full Version : Water and Energy: Two Resources with a bleak future


Darth_Yuthura
11-01-2008, 01:07 PM
Many Americans are not aware of it, but water is quickly becoming just as scarce as oil. Because its so easy to extract and pump, its almost cheap enough that people don't have to worry about paying the water bill. Little do they know, but it's only a matter of time before wells begin to dry up and alternate sources have become too polluted with pesticides and other toxins to be drinkable. When this happens, there will be a huge rise in price of a resource critical to life and few sources to provide for the growing demand.

This thread is to discuss ideas, problems, solutions, or concerns in regards to the future of this critical resource. The word 'Energy' is in the title because one of the solutions that would supply an indefinite abundance of fresh water is desalinization... which demands a huge investment of energy to extract salt from ocean water. If this kind of solution is to be implemented, then the energy demands must also be addressed.

Litofsky
11-01-2008, 01:34 PM
"Where there's a will, there's a way." If we, as a species, go in such a direction that the only door we've left open in terms of energy is water, I'm sure that there'll be a way to keep it usable/drinkable.

Of course, this is to say that we're stupid enough to not invest at all in Solar, Wind, and Nuclear energy.

Darth_Yuthura
11-01-2008, 04:11 PM
I was mainly addressing energy as being one of the solutions to providing all the water we would ever need. However, there are means by which we could conserve the freshwater we still have so that we won't have to resort to desalinization to satisfy our demands overnight. Most of the freshwater we tap comes from underground, but there are locations, such as Florida, that have been forced to use desalinization because all the freshwater has been extracted and drew ocean water into the aquifers.

There are alternatives to desalinization, but most solutions are more difficult, more expensive, or involve reducing demand... which is usually the easiest way to solve a scarcity, but often not the most favored.

Web Rider
11-01-2008, 05:08 PM
honestly, I find the idea that we will "run out" of water to be silly.

Where's it all going? Surely it hasn't left the planet? If it's still here in the planet somewhere, the clouds, the dirt, the ice, the oceans, ect... Then the same volume of water exists on the planet, though possibly in different locations.

Now, I agree that we are going to run into problems if we assume that fresh water sources(rivers, lakes, ect.) are the ONLY sources of water to be utilized. But if we take into account the oceans as well, I don't see how it's even probable that we'll ever "run out" of water.

I'm in the middle of my second paper on desalination, and frankly, it's not as impossible as everyone makes it out to be. I don't know why, here in the US, people are so obsessed with desalination being "complicated" and "expensive" and "inefficient". Saudi Arabia gets some 70% of it's water from desal. Up until the 70's and 80's, it would have ben true that it's not worth it, but current technology is rapidly decreasing the cost-to-production ratio.

Darth_Yuthura
11-01-2008, 05:47 PM
honestly, I find the idea that we will "run out" of water to be silly.

Where's it all going? Surely it hasn't left the planet? If it's still here in the planet somewhere, the clouds, the dirt, the ice, the oceans, ect... Then the same volume of water exists on the planet, though possibly in different locations.

Now, I agree that we are going to run into problems if we assume that fresh water sources(rivers, lakes, ect.) are the ONLY sources of water to be utilized. But if we take into account the oceans as well, I don't see how it's even probable that we'll ever "run out" of water.

I'm in the middle of my second paper on desalination, and frankly, it's not as impossible as everyone makes it out to be. I don't know why, here in the US, people are so obsessed with desalination being "complicated" and "expensive" and "inefficient". Saudi Arabia gets some 70% of it's water from desal. Up until the 70's and 80's, it would have ben true that it's not worth it, but current technology is rapidly decreasing the cost-to-production ratio.

Compared to pumping freshwater from the ground, desalinization is expensive because it is essentially boiling off water from ocean water. That would require much more electricity than what we currently use to supply our freshwater needs. The problem with desalinization is that it would require massive capital investments to actually implement in areas not presently suffering from a shortage of water. Many desert regions have desalinization because it was always the only way to get water in those areas in the first place. I don't think the Breadbasket states are seriously planning for desalinization once their groundwater is pumped dry.

There have been theories that experimental membranes could allow water to filter through while the salt could not. If this is successful, it could open greater possibilities that would reduce the energy costs that go into desalinization. Even if this were so, few regions of the US that don't have water problems are planning that far ahead.

Did I say we would run out of 'water'? I meant that the majority of our supply of freshwater comes from sources that are either becoming contaminated or can't be replenished as quickly as they are being extracted. Most groundwater required hundreds of years for all the surface runoff to infiltrate to such levels below the surface. The rate we are extracting this water is much greater than the rate it is being recharged from precipitation.

tk102
11-01-2008, 06:20 PM
I meant that the majority of our supply of freshwater comes from sources that are either becoming contaminated or can't be replenished as quickly as they are being extracted. Most groundwater required hundreds of years for all the surface runoff to infiltrate to such levels below the surface. The rate we are extracting this water is much greater than the rate it is being recharged from precipitation.
[Citation needed]

Darth_Yuthura
11-02-2008, 01:48 AM
[Citation needed]

Well, I could use myself, being a geography major, but it doesn't exactly work that way.

Ask anyone who specializes in soil sciences and they would say the same thing. I would refer to specific textbooks, but since they are not as easy to find, these professors taught the very subjects relating to water resources and physical geography. This is 'sufficient,' but I don't want to go to the effort of finding a source you can't easily find yourself.

email addresses removed... posting emails isn't allowed on SWK.com, not just Kavar's ~tk
jefferyt@*****
compase@*****
jacobsp@*****
larocqus@*****

tk102
11-02-2008, 02:53 AM
This is 'sufficient,' but I don't want to go to the effort of finding a source you can't easily find yourself.

Nah, you'd better for the sake of the non-geography majors who might like to look some things up without having to pester strangers by email. I mean after all, you started this thread with certain assertions. You should provide sources that others can lookup, if not for debate, then for curiosity. Presumably your textbooks are handy?

Web Rider
11-02-2008, 04:26 AM
Compared to pumping freshwater from the ground, desalinization is expensive because it is essentially boiling off water from ocean water. That would require much more electricity than what we currently use to supply our freshwater needs. The problem with desalinization is that it would require massive capital investments to actually implement in areas not presently suffering from a shortage of water. Many desert regions have desalinization because it was always the only way to get water in those areas in the first place. I don't think the Breadbasket states are seriously planning for desalinization once their groundwater is pumped dry.
True, it's more expensive, but again, much like computers, it's still expensive because very little has gone into development and setup of them, so progress is slow.

There have been theories that experimental membranes could allow water to filter through while the salt could not. If this is successful, it could open greater possibilities that would reduce the energy costs that go into desalinization. Even if this were so, few regions of the US that don't have water problems are planning that far ahead.
Which is the problem, we need to plan that far ahead.

Did I say we would run out of 'water'? I meant that the majority of our supply of freshwater comes from sources that are either becoming contaminated or can't be replenished as quickly as they are being extracted. Most groundwater required hundreds of years for all the surface runoff to infiltrate to such levels below the surface. The rate we are extracting this water is much greater than the rate it is being recharged from precipitation.
Well, the water is going somewhere. I mean, if I pump ten thousand gallons from a lake, rainfall may not refill it in one year, but it's not like there's 10,000 fewer gallons of water in the world.

Darth_Yuthura
11-02-2008, 09:04 AM
Sources on groundwater recharge.

Allison, G.B.; Gee, G.W.; Tyler, S.W. (1994). "Vadose-zone techniques for estimating groundwater recharge in arid and semiarid regions". Soil Science Society of America Journal 58: 6-14.

Bond, W.J. (1998). Soil Physical Methods for Estimating Recharge. Melbourne: CSIRO Publishing


Another source of artificial recharging due to excess extraction by humans.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Ahmedabad/Trend-setter_in_groundwater_recharge_/articleshow/3347237.cms

Darth_Yuthura
11-02-2008, 09:19 AM
Well, the water is going somewhere. I mean, if I pump ten thousand gallons from a lake, rainfall may not refill it in one year, but it's not like there's 10,000 fewer gallons of water in the world.

10,000 gallons of freshwater that evaporates is displaced. If it entered a basin like the Mississippi, the majority would likely end up in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.

Once freshwater has been consumed by humans, it will either have to be treated or return through precipitation. Once water has evaporated, it increases the likelihood of ending up in a body of salt water. THAT is what I mean when I give the impression that water is 'lost.' Freshwater that is mixed with ocean water becomes undrinkable unless desalinized. Any kind of water can be freed of impurities if evaporated, but requires a significant investment of energy per unit of water compared to pumping freshwater from the ground.

The only water that leaves the atmosphere is what is carried aboard spacecraft.

Jae Onasi
11-03-2008, 12:33 AM
I'm in the middle of my second paper on desalination, and frankly, it's not as impossible as everyone makes it out to be. I don't know why, here in the US, people are so obsessed with desalination being "complicated" and "expensive" and "inefficient". Saudi Arabia gets some 70% of it's water from desal. Up until the 70's and 80's, it would have ben true that it's not worth it, but current technology is rapidly decreasing the cost-to-production ratio.

I think Iraq has some desalinization plants, as well as a number of other Middle Eastern countries, too. I actually think Middle Eastern countries will end up leading the way in this technology because the need is so great there.

Web Rider
11-03-2008, 01:27 AM
I think Iraq has some desalinization plants, as well as a number of other Middle Eastern countries, too. I actually think Middle Eastern countries will end up leading the way in this technology because the need is so great there.

yeah, they do, most of the large desal plants are located in the middle east somewhere.

Darth_Yuthura
11-03-2008, 09:31 AM
Don't forget that there are regions within the US who's agricultural production depends on irrigation to use inhospitable or even arid land for farming. Los Vegas and Phoenix are in arid regions that depend upon groundwater to exist where they are. They have not made preparations for the future after their supplies of freshwater are tapped dry. Once that happens, even desalinization cannot save their economies... look at how much water is squandered by Vegas on a daily basis... all that farmland made up of crop circles... dependent on groundwater.

The most economic choice for the future of water is always going to be the cheapest solution to providing as much water as possible. Today, it's pumping ground water, but that will change rapidly as wells don't gradually yield less water as the aquifer dries up. Because their production is either 100% or 0%, there is little means to gradually change from one source to another. My issue is that once groundwater sources dry up, making the transition to desalinization would more difficult than if a gradual transition were to be made.

Essentially, the only way to avoid the transition difficulties, preparations should be made to at least provide a minimum supply of water from a source that can sustain a population indefinitely. If 10% of a region's water capacity came from desalinization, then there would at least be enough drinking water to avoid a worse-case crisis when it happens.

mimartin
11-03-2008, 02:05 PM
Los Vegas and Phoenix are in arid regions that depend upon groundwater to exist where they are. Las Vegas gets 90% of its water supply from Lake Mead and the Colorado River, the rest is from groundwater and smaller rivers.

Phoenix on the other hand, draws from the Colorado, reservoirs and groundwater.

Darth_Yuthura
11-03-2008, 03:18 PM
Las Vegas gets 90% of its water supply from Lake Mead and the Colorado River, the rest is from groundwater and smaller rivers.

Phoenix on the other hand, draws from the Colorado, reservoirs and groundwater.

Right! I guess I wasn't thinking at the time.

What I should have said was sources that cannot be sustained at the rate they are being demanded. Rivers and lakes can be tapped so significantly that they aren't replenished by precipitation as quickly as they are being used for agriculture and human consumption.

There is one very significant issue in regards to tapping rivers, however. Even rivers are not always a reliable source of drinking water because withdrawals upstream directly affect the populace living closer to the mouth. This means that the availability of freshwater from the Mississippi could be disrupted to New Orleans if too many people settled upstream. The overdrawing of water from upstream is also a concern that should be noted. (I did not address the pesticides and fertilizers from agricultural runoff, but that's another issue as well.)

mimartin
11-03-2008, 03:44 PM
Tapping is an issue, but cities like Las Vegas are limited on the amount of water they can pull from the Colorado River. I know the same thing happens in Texas with the Edwards Aquifer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edwards_Aquifer).

Darth_Yuthura
11-03-2008, 04:19 PM
I think I should cease with this thread. I hate it when people post a bunch of worthless or inaccurate content and that's exactly what I had done for a lot of this. Although I COULD really make a good argument, I've not made a decent attempt to specify specific sources and even argued for something that was completely wrong.

I'm not going to keep this thread going unless I have something more... professional than what I've spouted off about. I just was trying to get people to realize that the majority of the US doesn't suffer from water problems... yet. When we start feeling the effects, they will manifest themselves very quickly.

Web Rider
11-03-2008, 05:40 PM
it's hard to feel like you're suffering from water problems when I can't even see out my living-room window 'cause of the wain pouring down on it.

mimartin
11-03-2008, 06:21 PM
it's hard to feel like you're suffering from water problems when I can't even see out my living-room window 'cause of the rain pouring down on it. I know what you mean, I've been dealing with flood and water damage claims for the past 51 days. Of course the flood claims are from salt water.

While I agree that water shortage is presenting and will present a significant challenge for the world and this country. Right now, it is not presenting any challenge to my area of the world; the challenge here lately has been too much water.

I think I should cease with this thread. I hate it when people post a bunch of worthless or inaccurate content and that's exactly what I had done for a lot of this. Although I COULD really make a good argument, I've not made a decent attempt to specify specific sources and even argued for something that was completely wrong.I would not say this is true. You made some key points, but have not put them together in the best way.

So 90% of Las Vegas water comes from Lake Mead and the Colorado River. If the growth Vegas has seen over the past two decades continues, where will Vegas get its water to sustain its growth? They have already wheeled and dealed to get their allotment increased and the citizens of Nevada fought to reject Vegasí attempt to drain the ground water in the 17 valleys within a 200 mile radius of the town.

I agree with Jae and Web Rider that the technologies to cost efficiently desalinate sea water will come from the Middle East, but I would not be surprised if it does not come from Las Vegas. A pipe line to the California coast and ability to cost efficiently desalinate water could save the goose that laid the golden egg.

Darth_Yuthura
11-03-2008, 07:17 PM
While I agree that water shortage is presenting and will present a significant challenge for the world and this country. Right now, it is not presenting any challenge to my area of the world; the challenge here lately has been too much water.

I agree with Jae and Web Rider that the technologies to cost efficiently desalinate sea water will come from the Middle East, but I would not be surprised if it does not come from Las Vegas. A pipe line to the California coast and ability to cost efficiently desalinate water could save the goose that laid the golden egg.

Well floods are when there is too much water to infiltrate the soil and most is lost as runoff. Even flood water doesn't mean there is enough tap water to go around. Urban flood waters are too dirty to use because of backed up sewers, petrochemicals from roads, and other toxins than originate from human activity.

Just because there is an abundance of precipitation doesn't mean that there is an abundance of drinkable water from the tap. If the soil is saturated only a brief period of time per year, then everything beyond that would be lost as runoff. Only when water infiltrates below the water table would aquifers actually recharge.

If the tap takes water from a river, still the same issues emerge with urban and rural flooding contaminating the water. It could be treated, but human agricultural activity makes that even more expensive than simply filtering impurities.

-----

As for the Vegas solution... there may be no need for a pipeline to the coast. All that they would need is a solar still. As long as water isn't allowed to evaporate into the atmosphere, they could literally recycle all their waste water using solar energy. I over simplify the solution, but it could be done without using an independent powerplant.

mimartin
11-03-2008, 07:32 PM
No, we do not use well water for all the reason you mentioned above, but mainly due to pollutants from the near by chemical plants. Our water comes for man made reservoirs and unfortunately they have been having to release fresh water into the Gulf due to our over abundance. That is a problem not only for the waste, but to locale fishermen.

Web Rider
11-03-2008, 08:38 PM
No, we do not use well water for all the reason you mentioned above, but mainly due to pollutants from the near by chemical plants. Our water comes for man made reservoirs and unfortunately they have been having to release fresh water into the Gulf due to our over abundance. That is a problem not only for the waste, but to locale fishermen.

Do you ever find it funny that the same wells your mom and dad drank out of, are now "dangerously toxic"? If you look up the info, it's not generally beause they're getting MORE polluted, it's because whatever group that covers water has been raising the bar on cleanliness.

Most water from your average rural well isn't going to kill you, the probably that it will make you sick is equally small.

mimartin
11-03-2008, 08:44 PM
I'd find it funny if my grandparents and parents did not died or were not dying of cancer. :(

Web Rider
11-03-2008, 10:07 PM
I'd find it funny if my grandparents and parents did not died or were not dying of cancer. :(

everything gives you cancer these days. Doing anything will increase your chances of cancer.

RoxStar
11-04-2008, 11:13 AM
Many Americans are not aware of it, but water is quickly becoming just as scarce as oil. Because its so easy to extract and pump, its almost cheap enough that people don't have to worry about paying the water bill. Little do they know, but it's only a matter of time before wells begin to dry up and alternate sources have become too polluted with pesticides and other toxins to be drinkable. When this happens, there will be a huge rise in price of a resource critical to life and few sources to provide for the growing demand.

Did you just watch the Quantum of Solace trailer for the first time or something? :p

Darth_Yuthura
11-04-2008, 11:36 AM
Did you just watch the Quantum of Solace trailer for the first time or something? :p

Huh?

I put up this post because I used to assume that freshwater was a renewable resource everywhere it rained. It would have seemed that with all the rain we receive each year, how could we possibly be concerned with a resource as abundant and cheap as water. Little did I know that the water I got from my tap came from a source that wasn't recharged by water infiltration nearly as quickly as it was being extracted from the ground. Once I became aware of exactly how long it would take for the aquifer to be replenished, my perception of water had changed greatly.

Americans often take water for granted, but it is still the most important resource we need to live. Although it is a resource that is so plentiful that it covers 70% of the globe, less than 1% of it is unusable without desalinization.

And freshwater is also regarded by most to be renewable because of how much rain a region receives, but that does not mean the water we get from the tap came from a source that is renewable. Rivers may be considered renewable, but the problem comes from human influence contaminating the water through agriculture.

This does not really mean we, ourselves, can change the situation, but as a community, we might be able to extend our limited sources of freshwater for future use before they are contaminated or depleted.