Water a Critical Resource

Victor Luca, 16-May-20.

The Beacon 20-May-20

I have yet to bump into anyone who can live without fresh clean water. Contrary to popular belief fresh water on our planet is not abundant. Below is an image of the Earth stripped of all its water that is becoming increasingly famous. The image can be obtained at the following link: http://www.tobagonet.it/news/freshwater-distribution-earth/

The Earth stripped of its water. All of the Earth’s ocean water (large sphere, 1500 Km diameter), fresh water (mid-sized sphere, 273 Km diameter) and freshwater accessible to humans (small sphere, 55.5 Km diameter). Howard Perlman, USGS; globe illustration by Credit: Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution). Source: USGS.

The image emphasizes that there really isn’t all that much total water on and under the Earth’s surface. While the oceans appear truly vast to us as we stand on a beach, they really are little more than a thin film covering parts of the earth. Water, and especially fresh water, is relatively scarce on planet Earth. Fresh water is a precious resource and should not be wasted, used frivolously, polluted or taken for granted.

Water is not a commodity, it is a Common resource because we all need it and we should all have a right to it. Access to water is a human right as declared by the United Nations. In fact it was on the 28th of July 2010, through Resolution 64/292, that the United Nations General Assembly explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realization of all human rights. Water is a source of life. Humans could not have evolved without it and we need it to sustain us. Apologies to the creationists.

While Aotearoa ranks number ten in the world in terms of the amount of fresh water available per person, Australia ranks number 33 (https://www.indexmundi.com/facts/indicators/ER.H2O.INTR.PC/rankings).

New Zealand has a temperate climate and rain is relatively plentiful, or at least it has been up till now. New Zealand is truly blessed. Not only is water critical to human survival, it is the lifeblood of the agricultural industries of both countries.

It takes 17,195 L of water to produce 1 Kg of chocolate, 15,415 L to produce 1 Kg of beef, 2,495 L to produce 250 g of cotton and 2,497 L to produce 1 Kg of rice. You can check these staggering numbers for yourselves at this link: https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/jan/10/how-much-water-food-production-waste.

As I have said many times, fiat money is all well and good, but you can’t eat or drink the stuff. Despite the fact that humans have been fighting over water for millennia, today in developed countries we have come to take potable water largely for granted. This is probably due to the fact that modern technology has made potable water available at the turn of a tap. In fact, in the delivery of water to faucets, we are not directly paying for the water itself, but rather, its purification which involves relatively costly treatment processes. Even modern water treatment plants require maintenance and the consumption of significant amounts of energy and chemicals.

Prior to the development of techniques for the mass purification of water, large numbers of people used to die of many water-borne diseases including typhoid, cholera and botulism to name but a few. Next to modern medicine, it is likely that the availability of clean water has been the single most important factor in greatly extending life expectancy in many countries.

Although we pay for the purification of water, what is seldom, if ever accounted for in the pricing of water are the so-called ‘externalities’ including 1) the cost of pollution or contamination, 2) environmental impacts, 3) public health and safety, 4) social disruption and so on.

As most readers will be aware, the human population of the planet has been increasing exponentially and has already breached 7 billion. The population is expected to increase to a staggering 11 billion before it reaches or overshoots the carrying capacity of our Earth. That is, our consumption of resources exceeds the resources that are available on earth, including water. If you haven’t read the famous book ‘The Limits of Growth’, then now might be a good time to catch up.

It should not surprise therefore that mega-banks, global investment firms and billionaires are scrambling to buy up the world’s water. The article entitled “The New ‘Water Barons’: Wall Street Mega-Banks are Buying up the World’s Water” is worth reading on this topic. Even if half of what you read in this article is true, then it is a cause for serious concern.

The cost of tap water is about $1.56 and $2.50 per 1000 liters in New Zealand and Australia respectively. Compare that with about $3 per liter for bottled water and you can see why global corporations would want to dominate this business. Thus, while the water is plundered essentially for free, the 1000 to 2000-fold increase in the cost the consumer pays for bottled water is due mostly to the production of the bottle and profit. Not included in the cost of bottled water of course is the cost of pollution, waste management, recycling and the increase in disruption and carbon emissions associated with heavy traffic movements involved in moving these bottles around.

In various districts in Aotearoa, artesian water is practically being giving away to Chinese water bottlers despite public outcry and court action.

One argument used to justify water bottling in Aotearoa is that if this water isn’t captured then it will be lost to the ocean. However, we have not taken into account that in order to reach the ocean this water has been purified by Aotearoa and nobody pays for that.

When water bottling is being banned in US states such as Montana, and the fight is on to stop mega corporations such as Nestle from plundering Californian’s fresh water, we are about to give permission to turn water into another resource to be plundered. Meanwhile in Australia, the battle between water bottlers, farmers and others is well and truly on for young and old.

My recommendation to ensure top quality drinking water is to install and maintain a domestic point-of-use under-sink or bench-top activated carbon filter. Bench-top activated carbon filter systems can cost as little as $60 and will last at least a year if you use them exclusively for producing drinking water. A slightly more sophisticated yet compact domestic filter system with a reverse osmosis stage will also take out fluorine and other components and produce water much more pure than most artesian waters. Recent Life Cycle Assessment studies have shown that in terms of environmental impacts such point-of-use systems represent the best option and they cost 8 to 19 less than bottled water. Such filters can process thousands of liters of water before they require replacing and will take out sediment, many metals and importantly the chlorine that the water-treatment plant introduces to kill the bugs. Depending on the degree of sophistication, the quality of the water produced by such systems can greatly exceed anything that comes from underground. But remember, like any equipment, these systems only work if they are properly maintained.

Upper Tarawera river down from the falls.

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