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Part 12b – Water and the Future

Welcome again to this 2nd part of Water and the Future, in the Foundation for Water series, the Creative Secrets of Water.

  1. Uses and Abuses of Fresh Water

Picking up on the fact that agriculture, in its task to feed us all, uses 70% of humanity’s fresh water supply, it follows that it is agriculture that should be required to make drastic changes to conserve water, especially through irrigation which uses most of this amount.

The main thing is stop broadcast soaking of land, and introduce more direct plant drip supply tailored to exact growth needs. Israel is a good example of this.

The over pumping of groundwater by the world’s farmers exceeds natural replenishment by at least 160 billion cubic metres a year! This a global average. Poorer countries tend to water what is just needed while richer ones are using enough to drain their own resources permanently within this century.

Over one quarter of the world’s farmland is now waterlogged, where water is unable to drain away out of the oversoaked water table, with irrigation so over applied, previous crops cannot be grown or are underperforming.

Education about the facts and best methods, plus legislation and commercial incentives needs to be introduced to create rapid change.

Also agricultural methods need reviewing urgently worldwide, as is happening at government level in the European Union around the nearly dead Baltic Sea.

Agri-business super phosphates and poisons, dropping into water tables flowing into streams and lakes, cause massive growth of weeds, oxygen depletion and pollution even out in the seas.

These agri-business methods have also caused topsoil saltpans with reduced nutrients in 1/8th of the world’s farmland in the so-called ‘green revolution’.

Fortunately, real green revolutions are happening in places like India, where at present rates of growth, all of India’s village agriculture will be Biodynamic in ten years time. And one of the great benefits is the replenishment of artesian water supplies.

Organic and Biodynamic methods use half the water of the synthetic farming method using super phosphates, because the organics’ soil is filled with nutrients that hold water and feed the water table in a healthy manner. (see

Regarding industrial use of water in factories, we find most water is used in the manufacture of organic products, including foods.

Control of water quality is improving fast but tragically much pollution is seen as impossible to stop by those abusing it.

In developed countries progress has been made in combating water pollution, either by reducing the amount of water used, especially when it has to be paid for, or by legislation, fines and genuine concern for the planet.

Nevertheless, according to about 400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge, and other wastes result each year from industry, with 70% of this dumped untreated to pollute the usable water supply! This is some 20 million tons of heavily polluted water per year! This is completely unacceptable and is taking too long to reverse. Personal use of water is vast, but is still only 8% of total human use of fresh water.

If only the commercial compost toilet had been developed in England in the early 1800s, instead of the ubiquitous flush toilet that has spread worldwide! Or if sea water had been used for toilets and clothes washing once pumps were good enough.

The forces of inertia around new ideas being applied is strong and not until the problem is extremely pressing will such measures be even considered applicable on a widescale basis. The future costs are going to be extreme with our short term planning habits pushing solutions out into the future.

The conservation of water supplies by collecting and harvesting rainwater is a high priorty and can be developed at the same time as new flood control infrastructure. Methods are being developed to trap water runoff and encourage it to feed down into artesian supplies and could be developed large scale.

IDeas as simple as urban homes collecting roof water into tanks as their country cousins do, would greatly reduce the load on city supply infrastructure and usage.

In very dry countries people are so careful with water they even develop ways of harvesting dew condensation for agriculture. Water rich areas can learn much from these habits in poorer areas.

One of the best ways of water conservation is tree planting. Moisture and rain is attracted to forests, which store the water in the root-activated ground and then clean it through the transpiration up the trunks and back into the air.

It is wonderful to be able to report that the tree cover of Europe and America are now reported to be higher than it was 80 years ago, while tropical forests are still being cleared so widely their carbon dioxide output from burning trees equals that of worldwide industry.

The urgent requirement to clean up industry and agriculture is being taken seriously especially in the European Union, which is setting standards for the world to follow.

Information Sources: (search for ‘water’ and drill down!)

  1. Climate Change and Water Distribution.

It is clear now that climate change is caused mainly by human beings, and when traced backwards, mainly as a result of our style of thinking that invents such polluting machinery and ‘conventional’ farming methods.

However the answers are not final on what will happen where and when as a result. Nature will decide that.

One thing we do know is that the Rodale Institute has recently shown that organic farms hold 30% more carbon in their soils than ‘conventional’ methods. By changing all farms over to organics a country can save up to 20% carbon emission in a few simple years!

However, on the down side, aside from rising sea levels mixing salt water into coastal fresh water aquifers, many countries are going to have bigger droughts and others have greater flooding.

A symptom of these times is a recent report that the city of Sydney may not be livable by 2050 if water supplies continue reducing the way they are. Desalination may be an expensive answer with huge salt waste storage problems.

However drought ridden areas do have some hope, because of the widespread, vast underground water supplies. With small localised investment in wells, tree planting and microdams, and careful use of this water, decent life styles can be created.

Areas of heavier flooding face catastrophic suffering and huge costs to upgrade flood control and victim support. As of writing, there are 20 million people seriously affected by unusually heavy monsoonal flooding in the Indian subcontinent.

With many glaciers and lower snow levels melting without much replenishment, major mountain-sourced rivers such as the Ganges and Indus already have diminished flows. This creates localised tensions, but it is good to note that Bangladesh and India have a treaty in place for the shared use of the Ganges.

One thing is becoming clear. Whatever we took for granted before, may not be available soon, or even now.

These problems will be localised, with each country having to solve it for itself, but hopefully with global coordination.

A major concern is how countries will relate to each other when severe water shortages affect one with a neighbour that has plenty.

Even without the complicating factors from global warming, the potable, or drinkable, water crisis is already serious.

And for those who have good water on tap, it is important to develop a global consciousness about this.

For water is a global element.


Iain Trousdell Co-Founder and Keynote Speaker Foundation for Water

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