We are living on 'The Blue Planet' – so how can we be limited in water?
With water covering over 70% of the Earth's surface, it is indeed deceiving that 97.5% of our planet's water is salty. Of the remaining 2.5% that is fresh water, over three quarters is locked in ice. No wonder sea level rise from melting ice is a real thing.
The mighty Amazon River that is so important for life, does not look so mighty when we understand that less than 0.1% of water on the planet exists in rivers. With this information in mind, it becomes more understandable that close to half of the world's population, 2.7 billion people, face water shortages during at least part of the year.
Okay, so water is scarily limited on a very blue planet and we need to be doing a bit more accounting for how we use this asset than we currently are, because we cannot live without it.
If we are to manage this water crisis, governments need to step up to the following:
Regulate water pollution
While travelling in South East Asia during a research project, I pondered why, in a country with tropical rains and jungled mountains that filter that water, does the society spend so much time moving water in plastic bottles? Simply put, the water system was too polluted to drink.
These are countries that also supply food around the world, so it is all of our problem. We need to support developing nations and developed nations alike, to be able to care for our precious water sources.
If only we could put a value on water as if it were gold. After all, we humans are made up of 70% water, why wouldn’t we worship this source that is a foundation of life? This is where regulation just has to exist; to prevent wasting the water we need for life. Let’s return to the days where tap water is the best source of drinking water and protect our water sources carefully across the globe.
Support water saving technologies
Changes in the climate means that regions like California and Australia are now going to struggle to be the producers of food that they used to be; a worrying situation. In Australia, a lot of time is taken up in government, fighting over who owns the water as it flows naturally across borders, and this is only going to get worse!
We have come to the point where a farmer in Queensland is fighting with a fisherman in South Australia, 2000 kilometres apart, over the same litre of water. We need to start using it more efficiently - everywhere.
Israel developed drip water irrigation over 50 years ago, and has reduced the pressure on water use by over 30%, it reuses water as much as possible, and it measures water use everywhere! This is like accounting for the dollars in the bank and we need to start valuing water just as much.
So what can we (you and me) do – today – to help?
Stop wasting it!
We are literally flushing it down the toilet! A dripping tap could waste 10,000L of water per year – so don’t hold off on calling that plumber. Think about a shorter shower, filling the washing machine and maybe install a grey water system to reuse water on your garden and flushing the toilets. This can save up to 30% of household water use. Choose plants in your garden wisely. Wash you car more efficiently, less often, and on the grass.
But we are using way more water than this, if you include the food we eat and the miles we travel. You can use a pretty clever water calculator (pretend to live in a US State) to see how your daily water use measures up, and what things you might do to improve it. I did mine and was pretty shocked to see that all up, my personal water footprint was 4 tonnes of water per day, and that was below average! I identified that with a few simple changes, I could drop my water consumption down by 1 tonne of water per day.
Eat less water hungry crops
Crop production is the most water hungry thing we do on our planet. No wonder crops like Maize are a staple in some of the driest continents of the world. It is one of the crops with the least pressure at scale on land and water. The choice of crops that we use and how and where we use them, will be a big part of reducing our impact on these limited resources.
Shop for clothes thoughtfully
Another big thing to consider is how much water the crops that create your clothes require. You might be surprised that from a water and land consumption point of view, it is better to drive with biofuels from crops like maize and wheat, than to dress in cotton! Look out for more sustainable fibres like linen, hemp, recycled fibres or organic cotton, all which use much less water to produce.
The opportunity for compostable packaging also relies on plant production. This is great because it removes the use of fossil sources and plastic pollution, but it will increase pressure on land and water resources to grow more crops.
But here is where seaweed simply wins - hands down, every time.
Food without freshwater
There is something special about seaweed. It doesn’t need freshwater to grow. If we could reach the target of 10% seaweed in our foods, we could reduce the pressure of water demand for 10% of our land crops. Food production adaptation will be one of the biggest opportunities to improve water use efficiency.
A bit of seaweed in your pasta, a splash in your muesli, and a seaweed snack - is going to reduce the pressure on water use in food production each time you eat it! And it will also deliver you the minerals that the salt water is rich in.
Let's add some ocean to our diets and help to protect the rivers, the Earth, and our health.