Water – its dearth or its abundance – is already a global problem. It manifests itself in poor countries, poor regions and poor neighborhoods first, but most assuredly will affect us all within the next generation. In 2015, the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Risk Reports rated “Water crises” as the most important risk facing the world.
The United Nations reports that we have some 15 years to avert a full-blown water crisis and that, by 2030, demand for water will outstrip supply by 40 percent. As water supplies dwindle and as nations abuse water sources, the UN, our only somewhat effective global authority, called together five hundred renowned scientists to investigate the problem. They found that a majority of the world’s population lives within a 30 mile radius of water sources badly stressed or literally running out.
Tied with already unfolding climate change, a growing redistribution of resources and income in the US and elsewhere, dwindling freshwater supplies, inequitable access to water and the corporate control of water pose the greatest threat to the planet and to our survival. For example, the operation of one average oil well for fracking can easily consume five and one-half million gallons of water over its lifetime, this, according to one driller, Chesapeake Energy.
All of this affects life and living standards for global citizens.
Many of us associate poverty, disease and famine with third-world countries, traditionally seeing images of bloated bellies of children in slums such as Nairobi or La Paz. Therefore, the worse stories of water pollution, too much borne of corporate exploitation and of water scarcity, we associate with third-world countries with over-populated cities.
But the water crisis is global, in our own regions, in our own neighborhoods. Climate change has arrived, leaving whole regions in the Western states parched and dry. California is in its fourth year of drought. Weather patterns have changed, leaving high mountains, a relative summer storehouse of water in the form of deep drifts of snow, relatively denuded. In addition, such weather patterns have failed to bring rain to the Pacific Northwest, instead bringing record-breaking temperatures.
California has mandated water conservation for residents, but not for commercial growers. In some areas of the central valley, with deeper and deeper wells, growers are sucking out the moisture from deep water sources, causing the land to sink tens of feet due to dry cavities.
In urban areas, hollowed out cities like Detroit are seeing privatized control of city water looming as the city is shutting off service to thousands of impoverished Detroit citizens, sometimes the same citizens whose pensions were slashed by a bankrupt city. Curiously Detroit was left to rot financially while the biggest Wall Street firms, most causing the financial collapse, were bailed out by taxpayers. In fact, one of them, Goldman Sachs, not only helped to erode assets of Americans but secretly had its fingerprints all over the Greek financial crisis.
Meanwhile, three punches to the guts of Americans: the Bush administration ripping out federal revenue through tax cuts for the rich, Wall Street firms defrauding average Americans and keeping their bailed-out largesse, and conservative forces shutting out recovery for cities and states for all public services, especially for education. Financial conditions brought by a failed but still-hailed Reaganomics and Republican attempts to strangle “big government,” continues to smother recovery for average Americans, while rich executives still take bonuses. The effect was growing poverty in American cities and higher costs for public services, including essentials such as water.
According to the Circle of Blue, the price of water in 20 of the largest US cities has increased 41 percent since 2010, with no end in sight. But historic poverty and unemployment in Europe has also put millions at risk. Many countries — Spain, Portugal, and Greece, for example — are caught between rising water rates and imposition of austerity measures, which resulted in thousands of families having their water shut off. Privatizing water services is not just confined to the US. Many European countries are doing it as well, making water a commodity rather than a right.
Add to that an unwillingness to invest in infrastructure in the US as income continues to be redistributed to the rich from everyone else. American Water Works Association (AWWA) says the US needs to spend $1 trillion over the next 25 years for water infrastructure alone. Republicans in Congress absolutely refuse to raise taxes to pre-Bush levels as well as invest in America, resulting in an infrastructure that continues to crumble.
In fact, the Urban Land Institute said that as Congress pushes costs onto “budget-busted” state and local governments, it is likely that the burden will fall on families and small businesses, pushing water rates even higher.
The management of water resources throughout the world is grossly flawed. A June 2015 NASA study found that 21 of the world’s 37 largest aquifers – India, China, the US, and France, for example – have passed their sustainability tipping points. More than half the rivers in China have disappeared since 1990. Asia’s Aral Sea and Africa’s Lake Chad, once the fourth and sixth largest, respectively, have all but dried up. In its August, 2015 report, NASA said that California will run out of water in about one year. I assume that is if El Niῆo doesn’t arrive to save our bacon.
Even while a dearth of water chokes us with dust in areas of drought or water mismanagement, eventually rising oceans will drive millions from coastal areas throughout the world, including Miami, New Orleans, New York City, and such. This, scientists are predicting decades in the future, but islands in the Pacific are already being swamped as its natives are forced to move elsewhere.
Hurricane Sandy proved that perfect storms can cause considerable flooding even now under optimal circumstances well before the foot level rise predicted for the banner year of 2050.
Too little water, too much water – both arise from poor husbandry of resources, from reckless use of fresh water, to decadent abuse of stored up energy in the form of fossil fuels, resulting in record carbon dioxide, CO2 in the atmosphere and in the oceans, the latter causing acidification.
Not always prominent in daily media releases, stories throughout the US highlight the water problems across the country. They are but a few of the stories of lives deeply affected. From the toxic results of fracking, to super storms like Sandy, to drought in California and oyster farming in Washington state, the stories flow.
Terry Greenwood, a farmer from Southwestern Pennsylvania said, “My story is not unusual. After my cows drank from a pond that was contaminated by frackwater, ten of the nineteen calves were stillborn.”
One of 2 million rural Californians who rely on private domestic wells, Pam Vieira, who lives south of Modesto, California, had sand in her toilet. She now relies on bottled water.
A few months ago, Joe Karcz in Stafford Township, New Jersey, had his home demolished by Hurricane Sandy in October of 2012. Still waiting for complete funding, his home is a dirt lot. “I want to go home,” he said, “I want my kids to go home.”
Hari Sreenivasan’s family oyster farm grows oysters near Olympia, Washington, served around the country. Because of acidification, the oyster larvae they bought died by the billions. Hari said, “For oysters, scallops and other shellfish, lower pH means less carbonate, which they rely on to build their essential shells. Hatcheries are now adding sodium carbonate and eelgrass to help balance the pH levels,” she said, “which is not a permanent solution.”