Water serves as the backbone of all life on our planet. Unfortunately, this resource is becoming increasingly scant for all of us.
Water covers 70% of our planet, a factoid that has been drilled into our head since elementary school. It is therefore easy to fall into a fallacy that water is plentiful and that we have more than enough to sustain life as we know it on this Earth. However, only 3% of the world’s water is freshwater, and two-thirds of that freshwater is unusable or tucked away inside glaciers. And the water that we do have access to is currently being ravaged by man-made pollution and other forms of toxic human activity.
From Flint, Michigan to the further reaches of the Chinese mainland- usable water is in critical demand, and data show this scarcity will only increase as time continues.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, currently, 1.1 billion people across the globe lack proper access to water, and over 2.7 billion will experience water scarcity for at least one month of the year. And this is only the beginning of the crisis.
According to the NRDC, water pollution kills more humans per year than war and all other forms of violence combined. By 2050, the worldwide water demand is anticipated to grow by 33%, only increasing the stakes and the costs of our water crisis.
From inadequate sanitation to the growing issue of agricultural consumption, fracking, and overfishing- our world’s water sources are hurting deeply. The time for action is now.
Water Contamination and Pollution
Water contamination and pollution is the most immediate threat to the health and purveyance of our water sources. Our rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans are suffocating from a slew of contaminants and toxins, negatively affecting the many wildlife species who rely on this water, thus putting the globe’s ecological balance in great jeopardy.
Due to water’s existence as a universal solvent, it is a source that is particularly susceptible to toxins and pollutants. By nature, water absorbs and dissolves more substances than any other liquid on Earth. Pair this fact with the reality that pollutants are being created at unbelievable rates, and we have a cocktail for ecological disaster.
The types of water pollutants fall into four general categories;
- Groundwater- The water that is collected in the cracks and fissures of our soil during rainfall, creating an underground storage space of usable water. Nearly 40% of all Americans rely on groundwater and for many in rural areas, this serves as their only source of usable water. Groundwater can be easily polluted and contaminated when pesticides and fertilizers make their ways into the Earth’s underground aquifers and once polluted, these sources will suffer the damage for decades, if not centuries. Polluted groundwater can also eventually seep into other sources of water such as lakes, streams, and oceans.
- Surface Water- these are the water sources that fill our lakes, oceans, streams, and rivers. They account for a large percentage of the water that is delivered to our homes. According to the EPA, nearly half of the world’s rivers and over one-third of our lakes are polluted and unfit for swimming, fishing, and most certainly drinking.
- Ocean Water- Our ocean’s health works directly in concert with the land, as 80% of ocean pollution stems from our human activities on dry land. While contaminants from factories and farms easily runoff into our oceans, waste and debris- specifically plastic- find their way into the world’s oceans through wind displacement or storm drains and sewer runoff. This can be deadly for the habitat and the large numbers of sea creatures who occupy it.
Within these categorizations we also see many specific complexities arising. Point source contamination refers to pollutants that originated at a singular source and then run directly into our water. Non-point source pollution on the other hand defines the source of contaminants that are derived from diffuse means such as agricultural runoff or debris spread.
To pull out one step further, we also see an issue arising known as transboundary pollution. Our world’s water sources do not know the lines that we have drawn on our world map. Oftentimes pollution from one country or region of the world will eventually contaminate another, and crossing political boundaries to see to the health of our environment can be difficult or downright impossible in many instances.
In this multi-part series on water, we will take a deeper dive into more issues surrounding our globe’s water sources such as fracking, overfishing, and agricultural consumption, so as to create a complete picture of the water crisis that is currently facing our world.