Water is both the most important molecule and the most important resource on the face of the earth. Water clearly trumps oil, natural gas or any other resource available to our global society.
Think about our most important universal solvent. Think about the human body made up of between 55 percent and 78 percent water by weight. Water drives our economy, produces power, protects human health, supports the transport of commerce, serves an essential component of the production of goods and services and sustains agriculture. Can you think of a more important resource?
Despite the importance of water, we regularly abuse this vital resource. We fail to adequately treat our storm water and wastewater. We allow our streams and rivers to be burdened by silt and the pesticides and herbicides used in agricultural operations. And even more alarming are abusive practices involving dumping municipal wastes into our near-shore and ocean resources and deep-well injection of some of our most problematic liquid wastes.
It is shocking to think that some 900 billion gallons of untreated sewage a year are discharged to our streams, lakes and ocean resources. Almost 10 percent of our energy consumption is spent pumping, heating and treating water but we don't do it very well. The infrastructure that moves both our drinking water and wastewater requires a capital investment of nearly $1 trillion over the next two decades.
However, there are some bright spots. The cities of Seattle, San Antonio, Philadelphia and Syracuse are leading the way. Think about rain barrels, cisterns, green roofs, porous pavement and rain gardens. These green infrastructure technologies and many others are reducing pollutants that are carried by urban storm water to our receiving waters while providing water for secondary uses and much-needed ground water recharge.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has entered the picture to recognize and certify new homes for its "Water Sense" program by adopting technologies that reduce water consumption by at least 20 percent. The Seattle homes use 70 percent less water. The water conservation initiatives are taking off.
But when we look beyond those budding programs that are bringing about positive change, we see that as a global society are stressed regarding water resource issues. Think about the global tragedy of the estimated 40,000 people who die every day because of disease transmitted by untreated water or inadequate supplies of potable water.
It is not widely known but 2013 has been designated by the United Nations as the International Year of Water Cooperation. The purpose of this designation is to draw attention to both the opportunities and challenges associated with increased global cooperation in the field of water resources management. A number of these challenges include:
• transboundary water management
• water education
• international jurisdictional frameworks
All of this is being complicated by both the current and projected future impacts of climate change. Of the 10 indicators of a warming world identified by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, seven are related to water in one of its three physical states: solid, liquid and vapor.
Annual precipitation and runoff increases are now observed in the Midwest and Northeast while decreases are observed in the southern states particularly in the Southwest. This trend is projected to continue and even strengthen as we approach the end of this century.
The balance between supply and demand will challenge the management of our water resource infrastructure. It is anticipated that the availability of ground water will also be impacted because of the projected changes in precipitation and land use.
Because of the precious nature of this incredible resource, we need to undertake the necessary regional planning to identify the appropriate adaptive strategies, involving both structural and non-structural approaches, in order to ensure that all regions of this country will continue to be adequately served as we face our future challenges.
Remember: "Water's Worth It."