For less than a month, Alamosa families
experienced what 1. 2 billion people in
poorer nations suffer through every day—a
lack of clean, easily available water.
About 150 years ago, the U.S. faced similar
challenges: waterborne diseases such
as typhoid, cholera, and dysentery were
common. But in the early 20th century, the
advent of water filtration and widespread
chlorination put a stop to these harmful
diseases, marking a major breakthrough
for American public health.
Now we stand at another crossroads.
Advanced detection technologies can now
find trace pharmaceuticals and agricultural
chemicals in drinking water in vanishingly
minute amounts, in some instances down
to parts per quadrillion.
We also have the technological capacity
to substantially eliminate these
contaminants. But utility managers must
ask if the increased cost of such treatment
technologies, as well as their exponentially
greater energy use, will significantly protect
public health. They must also weigh these
investments against other uses of another
scarce resource: customer dollars.
As the world’s population continues to grow
and people migrate to warmer regions, we
will see increased water scarcity. By 2013,
most U.S. states expect to see some amount
of water shortage. By 2025, an estimated 5. 5
billion people worldwide will live in areas
facing moderate to severe water stress.
While the world is not running out of
water—the same amount exists today as
millions of years ago—we may reach a point
where the growing population pulls it out
of the ground more quickly than it can
be supplied. Compounding the problem,
climate change is changing the hydrological
cycle and making our existing water storage
systems less reliable.
In response to what is surely the biggest
water challenge of the 21st century,
suppliers will need to diversify water
sources, turning to reuse, desalination,
conservation, and a number of other
approaches to ensure water sustainability.
Water and Energy Management
When told to conserve water, Americans
take shorter showers and endure browner
lawns. Little known truth: we use more
water turning on the lights than by
showering and irrigating with it.
That’s because water and energy, the two
most fundamental ingredients of modern
civilization, are inextricably intertwined.
Each kilowatt-hour of coal-generated
electricity requires 3. 3 gallons of water, and
the production of electric power consumes
39 percent of our fresh water.
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