Water may steal the spotlight from crude oil as the fluid of this century. In recent years, there has been high-consequence turmoil over oil reserves and rights. Not only turmoil, but wars that killed large numbers of people, and left countries in rubble. It is speculated that we may see similar outcomes over access to fresh water within the next 15 to 20 years.
As populations rise exponentially, the strain on freshwater sources is becoming catastrophic. We have seen our population shoot up from 2 billion to 7 billion in the past decade. In 2050, the population is estimated to hit the 9 billion mark. Two decades prior to hitting that astronomical number, in 2030, it has been predicted that our population’s demand for fresh water will be 40 percent higher than our supply. You would have to be really terrible at math to not let those statistics jarr you.
While the American government looks towards technological discovery to save us from thirst and starvation, it cannot be depended upon when making speculations, and delivering water to those downstream of dams and reservoirs. Weather systems are more unstable and unpredictable, than anything we have experienced in human history.
While our president refuses accept the reality of his children inheriting a warming planet, the increase in abnormal storm cycles and prolonged periods of drought are undeniable. We are entering into a new time period and geologic age that are named in relation to the human impact on the core of the Earth’s natural processes. The anthropogenic geologic layer will include high amounts of plastics, and the anthropocene era will be known for erratic weather patterns and record high temperatures.
Just like oil, there are areas around the world that have higher reserves than others. The US is one of the higher ranking countries with plentiful reserves, although the western United States has been experiencing water scares, and has been water stressed for numerous decades. The aquifers and underground reservoirs are being depleted at an alarming rate, as can be seen by NASA’s recent satellite imaging of the world’s largest 37 largest aquifers.
Unlike oil, there is no substitute for water — which may be the scariest part of it all. Fresh water is essential to all things that make up human life. We need water to food production, energy production, and drinking water.
Which will disappear first — oil or water? If we deplete our oil reserves, the transportation industry will no longer be able to operate, and the ability to transport fresh water to areas in need becomes suddenly very difficult. According to Accutrac Capital, if the trucking industry was to cease operations today, fresh drinking water would be inaccessible to areas across the United States in as little as two to four weeks. Day-to-day operations may get more difficult in the absence of oil, but humans, as a species, cannot survive without fresh drinking water.
Water scarcity is largely hitting the semi-arid and dry climates across Africa and Asia. Unfortunately, many countries that are experiencing water stress are also in frail political states. In some of these countries, such as Syria, Yemen and Pakistan, there is a struggle for power, and those fighting to gain control see the ownership of fresh water access as a powerful weapon.
Just because Americans feel safe from it now, does not mean that we are safe from political strife as a result of water scarcity. A broad assessment of our water stresses should serve as enlightenment to our country’s leaders — to bring it to the forefront of policy-making, to revisit outdated water laws.
The Colorado River’s water is pumped to Arizona, Nevada, and California as a result of water agreements put into place almost a century ago. This is a contract that the Colorado River can no longer be held to. New Mexico is being taken to court by Texas for failing to deliver on water contracts on the Rio Grande, which was established in 1938.
Using water on loans is putting us into water debt, much like the issuing of credit and living out the American dream. However, we won’t recover from a water crisis as fast, or easily, as a financial crisis. As states demand the water that was promised to them to allow them to continue to socially and economically thrive, there may be cause for concern for the American people. The invisible lines drawn between states may become lines of tension as our arable lands decrease in size, and our water table continues to drop.
Much like how the automotive industry’s reaction to the oil crisis is to move towards fuel efficient cars, we need to explore how to move towards water conservation practices across the nation. With 90 percent of our water being consumed by the agriculture industry, we can hope to have our farming practices targeted as a area to improve upon in the upcoming years to keep water in the rivers and reservoirs.
This finite resource is undervalued and overused. As we shift into a new age of depletion, we need to asses water issues more aggressively, with forethought, rather than operating in a reactive manner when matters have already gotten out of hand.
W.M. Chandler is a Colorado native and works best with her head in the clouds. She is an avid researcher and enjoys writing about unfamiliar subjects. She writes passionately about nature and the outdoors, human connections and relationships, nutrition and politics.