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Finding Solutions to Our Water Challenges
Water is necessary for life. Although over 70 percent of the earth is covered by water, only 2.5 percent of it is freshwater. Only one percent is readily available for human use. This one percent is found in rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and in groundwater that is shallow enough to be affordably tapped. This is also the amount of water regularly renewed by precipitation and thus sustainable for use.This one percent of all the water on earth must stretch somehow across a population of seven billion people and counting.
How does freshwater become tap water?
Water treatment can also produce water of varying qualities for industrial, medical, or laboratory use. For the purposes of this article, water treatment is the process by which freshwater is taken from natural sources in the environment and made safer for drinking.
The water treatment process may be comprised of many different steps depending on the initial quality of the natural source. Some common steps in the water treatment process may include:
- Coagulation- Chemical like alum are added to water to form tiny sticky "floc" particles which attract and stick to dirt suspended in water.
- Sedimentation- The combined weight of dirt and floc become heavy enough to settle to the bottom to be removed from the process while the clear top water moves on to filtration.
- Filtration- The clear water passes through a set of filters that help remove even smaller particles and improve the taste.
- Storage- Filtered water is placed in a closed tank and disinfected.
- Disinfection- A small amount of chlorine is added or some other disinfection method is used to kill any bacteria or microorganisms that may be present. The disinfected water then flows through pipes to taps in the community.
Chlorine, Fluoride, and Why What We Add Matters
Some additives are necessary to make water safe to drink. Right now much of our water is treated with chlorine in order to kill the many microorganisms that are harmful when ingested. Chlorine is probably not the healthiest solution possible to this problem, but is cheap and effective. Unfortunately the addition of chlorine to untreated water causes the formation of DBPs, which are linked to elevated cancer risk according to the CDC. The health benefits of adding chlorine arguably outweigh the health risks of doing so. This does not mean that we should give up looking for safer options for better public health in the future.
Fluoride is another common additive to drinking water, especially in the United States. Fluoride, unlike chlorine, does not make drinking water in any way safer. In fact, it is known to cause health problems when ingested. The human body doesn't require a minimum amount of ingested fluoride the way it requires calcium or iron. Adding fluoride into drinking water is a bad old idea that should be stopped immediately.
Current proponents of drinking water fluoridation likely haven't considered all the facts as they are known today. Proponents will point to the decrease in cavities reported in children's teeth since fluoridation first began in the US, probably unaware that children's cavities have decreased at a similar rate in non-fluoridated populations across the world wherever most kids have ready access to fluoride toothpaste (which is supposed to be spit out and rinsed, rather than ingested) and regular dental care.
In the United States today, the majority of teens (about 80%) have teeth exhibiting signs of fluorosis, or fluoride poisoning. Fluoride poisoning actually causes tooth decay in young and old alike.
Unfortunately teeth are not the only parts of the body harmed by ingested fluoride. Fluorosis adversely effects bones and organs too, including the brain. Fluorosis causes bone loss and is linked to the rise of osteoporosis in the elderly as well as to the increase in childhood bone cancer. It has also been associated with lower IQs in children in 43 separate scientific studies conducted across the globe (which represents 86% of all studies ever conducted.)
Currently, newborns and older people without any teeth, teens already suffering from fluoride poisoning, and the rest of us (regardless of the states of our health) are receiving medical treatments that we didn't ask to get. We receive them anyway every time we cook with the water or take a drink from our taps.
To How Many Sources of High Fluoride is Your Family Exposed?
There is no way to control the fluoride dosage each person is receiving on a daily basis when tap water is fluoridated. How much a person gets depends on too many factors.
Some of these factors include how much fluoridated tap water the person drinks daily (active children and teens, dieters, heavy caffeine users, and athletes tend to drink more,) the fluoride levels in the tap water, how much fluoride is received from other sources including in foods (many of which are grown, processed, and cooked using fluoridated water) as well as whatever is absorbed or ingested through the use of toothpaste, mouthwash, and dental fluoride treatments, and through bathing in fluoridated water, since fluoride is absorbed through the skin.
Adding anything unnecessary to drinking water safety into our tap water is terrible public policy, no matter how admirable the intentions for doing so. This is especially true if what is being added is known to be harmful at any dosage.
What is a Water Footprint?
In the developed world, we rely on turning on a tap to get as much water as we need to drink, bathe, water our gardens, fill our pools, and wash our clothes, pets, and cars. According to the United States Geographical Survey, 80 gallons per day is the most conservative estimate for how much treated water fit for human consumption the average American uses for indoor and outdoor residential purposes.
If 80 gallons of water usage per day per person sounds like a lot of water, it is. In comparison, the average person in the UK uses about 40 gallons per day. The average person in Cambodia, Angola, or Haiti uses just 4 gallons per day.
However, residential use makes up only a small percentage of our water footprint. The rest hides in the foods we eat, the energy we use, and the products and services that we purchase. If America's commercial and industrial water usage is added to our total domestic usage and divided per capita, then the average American uses over 2000 gallons per day. This number is what is known as our national water footprint. America's water footprint is the largest of any nation on earth.
What is Water Scarcity and What Can We Do About It?
Water scarcity refers to an insufficient water supply to meet the demand in a given region. This is a man-made problem as well as a natural phenomenon.
There is enough freshwater readily available to support the earth's current population. Unfortunately water is not always located where it is needed. Likewise much of the available water on earth is polluted, wasted, or otherwise poorly managed.
Every 21 seconds, a child dies from drinking contaminated water. In many parts of the world, the infrastructure necessary for delivering safe drinking water through pipes to communities in need just doesn't exist and may never be built in the average child's lifetime. Instead we are starting to explore more immediate and portable solutions to provide safe water to the most remote locations on the planet.
One day we may expand the one percent of fresh water readily available to us. Water purifying technology continues to advance. Solar powered water desalinization plants could convert enough ocean water on a large scale right now if we had the political will to invest the money.. Graphene filters may soon make it possible to filter ocean water into potable drinking water as easily as pouring the water through a funnel.
The solution to our world water problems will likely be a complicated one that will involve better water management and conservation, as well as improved infrastructure and new portable technologies.
One Portable Water Technology That Is Helping to Change Lives
How Can You Help?
No matter how old or how young, one person can inform and inspire others and help to create a real difference and a better future for everyone. Try to find your own creative ways to conserve water. Don't pollute. Get involved in a water project or a clean up effort in your own community.
All of us can also help by supporting responsible charities dedicated to solving our world water problems. Here are two worthy ones that you might consider:
- Columbia Water Center/ Earth Institute /Columbia University, NY, NY- is a consortium of educators, scientists, and researchers specializing in hydrology, public policy, engineering, agriculture, and finance, creatively addressing global sustainability and allocation problems and designing specific solutions. Projects are tailored to the needs of each particular region. They have water projects in the US, Brazil, Ethiopia, Mali, and India.
Charity:Water is nonprofit that brings clean, safe drinking water to the neediest
communities in the developing world. This nonprofit gives kids, schools, clubs, and people who can't afford to donate on their own the chance to start their own fundraising campaigns on the website. 100% of donations go directly to providing wells, water filtration, and other needed water technologies through water projects in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.