The Inevitable Water Shortage in America’s Future

The Inevitable Water Shortage in America’s Future

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The same dream again.  It had been haunting him for weeks now.  Always the same.  Water.  Fresh water.  Drinkable water.  He got out of bed slowly, his stillsuit itching in that one certain spot again, and went to his refrigeration unit.  What flavor do I want this morning?, he thought to himself.  Eggs Benedict.  He opened the top of the squeeze tube and gulped the yeast solution down.

All the troubles had begun in the year 2010 when Aldo was in his first year of college.  The first of many droughts had hit the Southwestern United States of America due to excessive use of the Colorado River.  Few had died in that one, but it was just a child compared to the trials to come.

Aldo Goldwater was now thirty-five years old.  He had grown up in Phoenix, Arizona in a time when water conservation was a thing of inconvenience.  People back then would flood their lawns, wash their vehicles, even bathe with water.  Times were different now.

The Water Conservation Act of 2011 was one of the U.S. Government’s first feeble attempts to ensure water quality and availability into the future.  His father, too, had been a visionary, and was important in the drafting of that first weak attempt at revamping the water usage laws in the United States.

The droughts of 2016 and 2017 proved it ineffective, however, and deaths around the country totaled in the thousands, but that was just the beginning.  As global warming and ozone layer depletion gained the forefront in the news, temperatures around the world continued to rise.  Rainfall decreased annually at a steady rate, and polar ice caps were melting, making sea levels rise.  Ironically, the US’s major source of water, the Ogallala Aquifer, the largest non-renewable reserve of water in the world (Reisner 11) ran out in 2017, just when our water situation was at its peak.

Water shortages were not the only problem.  When river water is used in irrigation, much of it evaporates, the rest usually finds its way back to the river it came from.  Due to the evaporation and repeated use, it increases in salinity, salt.  Each time it is used and reintroduced into the rivers, the water gets saltier.  Each year crops got smaller, until many areas previously used for farming could no longer sustain plant life.  In some areas you could even see a white dusting of salt (Reisner 6) that looked like a frost in ninety-five degrees of heat.

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A desperate government sought desperate measures.  As the youngest elected  Senator, Aldo proposed a bill to attempt to alleviate the obviously growing problem.  When the bill was finally past, it brought to life a very hopeful agency, the Water Investigation Agency, or WIA.

Initially the agency seemed only concerned with water education, conservation programs, research, and technical assistance to those who needed it, but over the next few years, it became similar to the CIA or the IRS.  Like the CIA and the IRS, it was founded on good intentions, but also like the CIA and the IRS, it discovered loopholes in its founder’s initial plans, and took liberties with them.  The IRS had banned at the turn of the century, and the WIA was glad to take its place.  Aldo’s creation was becoming a monster.

A year after its  institution the WIA passed a law called the Fair Water Act.  This law had little to do with water.  Aldo, one of the most outspoken members of the senate at the time, tried to argue against it, but the ball had already gained too much momentum.  The Fair Water Act limited the amount of children you had according to income.  Income translated to how much water you could afford, and therefore how many children you could support.

A law called the Water Conservation Act was also passed.  Each household was to pay a certain amount to money for the amount of water they used per year.  Like errant income tax payers, errant water tax payers were subject to search and seizure of property, and in the arena of water, the WIA had been given powers above and beyond those of it’s pretentious predecessor, the IRS.

The U.S. was not the only country suffering from drought.  Eastern Africa and the Middle East bore the largest part of it.  Water at the time in that part of the world was drawn from almost entirely from aquifers.  Aquifers are a non-renewable resource (Reisner 6), and when they were gone, these arid countries sought an alternative.  Desalination, the removal of salt from seawater, however, is a very costly process that requires many natural resources to operate (Cooper 1118).

Oil had also become more expensive.  The only major oil fields left in the world were in deep underground seabeds.  Due to the cost of desalination, water also rose in price—dramatically.  Many families in these countries could simply not afford water.  Desperate, primitive efforts were made at self-reclamation, but disease inevitably found its way into the impoverished homes.  With not only the unavailability of fresh water, but also the poor quality of the water, the death rates in the Middle East far outstripped those of the US.

Tensions rose and extremist groups cropped up at the injustice.  Water Pirates, Piratae Aqua (Cassel’s 204), began plundering government wells and private industries.  Different factions would sabotage the water of the upper classes by redirecting it to their own stores, or contaminating the water so it could not be used.

The U.S. sought to intervene on the growing problem.  Small factions like Wulid Maal Maay (Clarity 157), the Sons of Water that had been plaguing the water resources there unified against the U.S., crying out for a righting of the injustice they were suffering.  Already committed, U.S. forces attempted to stamp out the small guerrilla groups.  Fighting against decentralized groups of opposition, the action, as it would be come to be called (not unlike Vietnam some say), was a general failure.  Water poisonings continued and water supplies in the area continued to steadily dwindle.

World War III arose out of this “water tension” in 2020.  They say that necessity is the father of invention.  Aldo, still in Senate, was a far-seeing visionary when it came to water conservation planning.  He fought for the implementation of systems in homes so that each home was a separate water user.  Homes were equipped with a certain amount of water that was recycled from within.  The water had to be changed every three months or so and sent to a central repurification center to be recycled, but otherwise, private homes were “water self-contained.”

New forms of food were introduced – starches and yeasts.  These products required little or no water, and were able to be made in mass quantities (Asimov 2).  With breakthroughs in nutritional sciences starches and yeasts were capable in fulfilling daily allowances.

New materials were also introduced.  Synthetic became the norm.  Since cotton and many industries use so much water, new synthetic fibers for clothes, building materials, food containers, and even paper.  The consensus was that water would only be used to sustain human life.

Genetic manipulation became broadly funded.  There is a rodent that lives in the Southwestern United States called the kangaroo rat.  This mammal, it is said, can live its entire life without a single drop of water (Phoenix Zoo).  The genes for this trait were “unlocked,” and a crude, underfunded attempt was made to splice it into the human gene sequence.  Unfortunately, however, a few twisted, unsuccessful attempts, led to its eventual global prohibition.

The sciences of chemistry and biology also played major roles in the “Clean-up.”  Chemicals to reduce the salinity in soil were discovered.  A chemical that kept the chlorine from bonding with the sodium yet proved relatively safe for human consumption was used extensively.   Microbes were engineered to break up human waste and industrial pollutants (Easterbrook 26).

Another breakthrough in the conservation arena was the stillsuit. Not unlike Frank Herbert’s stillsuits in Dune, the first stillsuits were patented in 2022, and were used primarily for catching perspiration and respiration from breathing.  Later stillsuits, were completely self-contained.  Bodily fluids were caught, purified, and pumped into little storage sacks through the simple movement of walking.

Undoubtedly the greatest contribution occurred at the end of the war.  It was energy efficient nuclear fission.  Fission dramastically reduced cost of all previous energy forms, and it allowed for cheap desalination.

After the war, a new order arose.
Dictatorial policies to “manage, protect, and conserve water resources for sustainable use into the indefinite future” (Municipal 2) were adopted.  The stillsuit was mandatory civilian wear, houses continued to have a set amount of water allotted to them,  water was still taxed, and heavily.

In the U.S. this amounted to a mass migration, something that had been taking place before the war, but was now more evident.  The people of the Southwestern United States retreated from the desert, the same desert they had thought they had tamed less than a century before.  Agriculture became a secondary food source, yeasts and starches took the foreground.  Industries too, were allotted a certain amount of water per year decided by the WIA on productivity grounds.

Aquifers were forbidden for public use.  Their use was deemed a crime against the state. Not a single drop of water was to be wasted.

Early in the next millennium, a great crisis will assault humanity.  As you may or may not know, our water is quickly running out.  Without new, innovative ways to conserve our water resources, our society will be faced with epidemic water shortages by the year 2025 (“A Crisis” 26).  This impending crisis must be averted now, while we still have the means to combat it.

We must start our water conservation efforts now.  As soon as the year 2000, parts of the United States will be suffering from water shortages due to excessive use of underground aquifers (Christensen 482).   Five things we are in desperate need of right now, education, research, financial incentives, and government regulations must come to pass(Hoag 293).  We must actively educate ourselves and insist on educating our children on the practice of  water conservation.  We must lobby funding for research.  We must as taxpayers and voters legislate bills to give farmers and industrialist incentives to conserve water.  We must fight for bills to be passes to regulate water use, and water contamination.

Small things will help, but their help will be trivial unless done on a very large scale.  Flushing your toilet less, installing low-flow shower heads, washing your car at a car wash that recycles its water, doing only full loads of laundry, irrigating your lawn when it’s cool out (or better yet, landscaping that requires little or no water).  What needs to occur if we have any wish to divert the impending disaster, is a change in global consciousness, especially in the United States.  We treat water like air:  it’s obviously ours to use, and it seems like there’s plenty of it.  Well…there isn’t.

If this shift in conscious does not occur within the next ten years, I guess all we can hope for is what has always pulled us out of the fire in the past:  our human ingenuity.  Ways must be found to recycle waste water and convert salt water in such manners so as to keep the cost of water down for the private sector, and still ensure it’s availability.

Although, in the short term, water conservation plans will cost us as taxpayers, I insist we have no choice.  Either we learn how to conserve water now, or we and our children will suffer.
Already today, 20 countries, due to frenzied population explosions and mismanagement of resources, face chronic water shortages.  By the year 2025 the World Bank estimates an additional 14 will follow (Cooper 1115).  Conflicts over water, not often seen in the media, are surfacing in countries where water is or is becoming scarce.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali Secretary General of the United Nations said, “The next war in the Middle East will be over water, not politics” (Cooper 1115).  World Bank Vice President Ismail Serageldin has a similar premonition:  “Many of the wars of this century were about oil, the wars of the next century will be over water” (1115).

Freshwater is a basic resource consumed in agriculture, industry, and personal households.  Over three billion gallons of water are used daily in the United States (“A Crisis” 22).  Three-quarters of the Earth’s surface is covered by water.  It is hard to believe we could run out of water in the next thirty years, but already over a billion people worldwide do not have clean water to use (Cooper 1115).  Almost all water on this planet, ninety-seven and a half percent of it, is saline or saltwater.    Of the two and half percent of Earth’s water left fresh, just .007 percent is available for our use.  The rest of it is locked in ice sheets and glaciers in the Polar Regions of the world or in deep underground aquifers (Kuylenstierna 151).

Two major reasons account for the approaching water crisis.  First, is the mismanagement and abuse of our water resources.  The second is that a growing population intrinsically demands a growing amount of freshwater.

Agriculture and industry account for almost ninety-two percent of global water use (Bequette 42).  Much of this water is not conserved.  It costs farmers in the U.S. almost fifty cents more per dollar annually to implement water conservation measures.  Water is so cheap in some regions right now, so easily accessible, that it is not lucrative to do practice conservation (Marshall 228).

Farming alone consumes more than two-thirds of the world’s freshwater (Bequette 42).  Agriculture experts give four basic ways farmer can conserve water: one, irrigation system improvements, two, quantitative reductions, three, changing crops to ones that do not require as much water, and four, the complete cessation of irrigation in some areas (Marshall 228). Some agriculturists, however, argue that the amount of water they use is necessary for the amount of food they have to produce; that the amount used is contingent upon our growing population.  They also argue that some methods of irrigation are worse for the soil and surrounding groundwater supply than others (228).  Today, only about 1 percent of California’s water used in agriculture each year is reclaimed (228).  Regardless of cost to farmers, new methods of irrigation must be invented or employed or the water will run out.  A choice must be made now between cost and actually availability of food.

Billions of gallons of freshwater are used in industry each year.  Industrialists claim that the amount of water they use is necessary for the amount of products they manufacture.  Much of the water used in industry is used in cooling machinery.  It is used once and then reintroduced into the local groundwater supply, often containing contaminants that place the water quality in jeopardy (Water Use 2).

On one hand, industry argues that cost outweighs the need to conserve water.  In California, however, programs have been implemented that “recycle about 100 million gallons a day.  It’s like freeing up drinking water for a million people” (Cooper 1128).  Programs like these are proven to save industry money, and provide more water for use.

Other industries seem to be making a successful effort to conserve water.  The Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station near Phoenix, Arizona requires 90 million gallons of water every day.  They employ a method of reclaiming water in which the water is piped through the cooling system until it is too rich in minerals and is no longer suitable to use in the condenser.  It is then pumped into huge evaporation ponds where the minerals can be removed, and the water cycled through the system again (Water Use 2).

There is only a certain amount of freshwater left in the world, and the United States consumes almost 408 billion gallons of that per day (Statistical Abstracts 232).  The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there are 5,950,494,116 people on Earth.  By the year 2025, they believe there will be 7,923,287,895 (U.S. Census).  The amount of water we consume increases every year with our exponentially rising population.  In the last fifty years alone, our society has consumed more water than all the people in the entire history of the world have (“A Crisis” 22).

There are those out there that believe that the entire environmentalist movement is a “great campaign of self-delusion” (This Ecology Craze 1).  They think that time is better spent on education, poverty, and race issues.  They believe that the environment does not matter compared to the many other trials and tribulations of the human race.  I humbly disagree.

For without changes in our environmental policy, without an environment all of these great issues of justice and liberty will not exist.  We must prioritize our goals.  As has been our legacy since our realized sentience, we must survive first and enjoy life second.  While some struggle for life, there will always be those out there that continue on in their limited-viewed endeavors, but we must survive.

The only way to do this is to protect the place in which we live.

Imagine having to wait in line for two hours to purchase a twenty-dollar gallon of water because we choose not to conserve our valuable water resources now.  Every drop of water lost through agriculture, industry, and private homes, threatens our fragile mortality. The frightening statistics of water consumption show that in thirty years our demand for water will exceed our supply.  If we do not curb our abusive water consumption habits, Earth will retaliate.  She will leave us wading in the stinking sewage water we have created, or leave us with no water at all.

 “Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.”
    - Aldo Leopold, “Sand County Almanac”, 1949
 
 
 
Works Cited

 “A Crisis in Water.”  Workbench Feb. 1997: 22-25.
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Bequette, France.  “Water:  Will Be There Enough?”  UNESCO-Courier June. 1998:
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Cassell’s New Latin Dictionary.  Cassell & Co.  New York, New York.  1959.
Christensen, John W.  Global Science – Energy, Resources, Environment, 3rd Edition.
 Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.  Dubuque, Iowa.  1991.
Clarity, Beverly E., Stowasser, Karl, Wolfe, Ronald G.  A Dictionary of Iraqi Arabic.
 Georgetown University Press.  Washington, D.C.  1964.
Congress, U.S.  “Municipal and Industrial Water Conservation Act or 1991.”
Cooper, Mary H.  “Global Water Shortages.”  The CQ Researcher  Jan.-Dec. 1995.
Easterbrook, G.  The New Republic.  Apr. 1990:  26.
Fraenkel, Jack R.  American Problems; The Environmental Crisis.   Prentice-Hall.  New
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Kuylenstierna, J. L., Bjorklund, G., and Jajlis, P.  “Future Sustainable Water Use:
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Leopold, Aldo.  A Sand County Almanac.  Oxford University Press.  New York.  1949.
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Researcher  Jan.-Dec. 1991:  222-235.
 
Phoenix Zoo.  Phoenix, Arizona.  1998.
Reclaimed Water for the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station.  Bechtel.
Reisner, Marc.  Cadillac Desert.  Penguin Group.  New York.  1993.
United States Census Bureau.  www.census.gov.  Online.  20 Oct. 1998.
United States Department of Commerce.  Statistical Abstract of the United States 1997.
Washington:  GPO, 1997.
Water Use.  Phoenix.
 

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