Water a drop in the bucket
Water is the safest conversation topic of this month, last month and probably next – how brown, short and dusty once-green pasture and the front lawn have become.
The debate for some is just how low the water tank really is (you know, from banging its side and listening for the ominous echo).
Trees look close to death wondering, as we do, just when autumn rains will come.
Farmers are forced to use their winter feed reserves to avoid drying out the herd or, worse still, are sending prized stock to the works.
There the cheque for them is a lot less than what they were worth in good times.
Truck-loads of expensive South Island straw arrive to somehow win time.
It’s no comfort for anyone to know we have joined a worldwide queue of countries in drought.
Just a few months ago, we were turning pages in compact newspapers with meagre facts about American states stricken with disaster through lack of water.
Then, there’s Australia, the unlucky country – where nearly half a million Kiwis now live across the Tasman – with floods and drought only state boundaries apart.
A bit too close for comfort then, now it’s just outside the New Zealand front door of once-lanquidly, half-interested city suburban families. Plus the nation’s farmers. It would be comforting to be able to bring glad tidings but I can’t.
Like a sinner looking for solace in their Bible, I’ve studied those expanses of high pressure maps and listened to television and radio pundits. No joy there. So I did what you do when your pressure is every bit as high as local weather maps. I went to the internet. As you do. Brace yourself. Apparently, according to the good sources I tapped (that pun was not intended) we now have all of the water we will ever have on the planet.
But – and it’s a big but – experts expect that by 2025, one half of the world population will face water shortage.
Water covers 71 per cent of the Earth’s surface, why should we worry? Well try these facts for size: Lesson one: Only 2 to 3 per cent of Earth’s water is fresh and 80 per cent of that is in the ice caps.
Lesson two: Water is vital for ALL forms of life.
Lesson three: You don’t miss your water till the tank runs dry.
Here are the numbers on the Earth’s water reserves: Where the world’s water is: Oceans, seas and bays 96.54 per cent
Ice caps, glaciers and permanent snow 1.74 Groundwater 1.69 (Fresh 0.76, saline 0.93) Soil moisture .001 Ground ice, permafrost .022 Lakes .013 (Fresh and saline both .007) Atmosphere .001 Swamp water .0008 Rivers .0002 And it really is true that all of the fresh water in the world is just a drop in the bucket. Hard to imagine?
American experts have no doubt. In the US, ProjectWET (Water Education for Teachers) publishes water resource materials; provides training workshops on topics of water sheds, water quality, water conservation; organises community water events; is building a network of educators, water resource professionals and scientists.
The mission of ProjectWET is to reach children, parents – people like me – educators and communities of the world with water education.
And Utah State University has adapted an activity lesson from ProjectWET to help unthinking people – like me and possibly you – to visualise the percentage of fresh water on the planet.
You will need a five gallon bucket, a clear one quart jar, a measuring cup, a teaspoon and an eye dropper.
First fill the five gallon bucket with water.
Following the chart below remove the appropriate amount of water from the bucket and pour into the jar. The quantity in the jar represents the total amount of fresh water on Earth. The result: Oceans 97.2 per cent = five gallon bucket
Ice caps/glaciers 2 per cent = one cup
Groundwater .62 per cent = one third of a cup
Freshwater lakes .009 = spoon
Inland seas and salt lakes also .008 = teaspoon Atmosphere . 001 = one drop Rivers .0001 = one flick. Barbara Boyer, a teacher at the American Indian Magnet School in St Paul, has designed a different teaching exercise.
You’ll need a big piece of paper – draw 100 squares on the paper. With a pair of scissors remove 97 per cent of the squares – this represents the oceans.
The remaining three squares represent all of the fresh water – but 80 per cent of that is frozen at the poles. With the scissors cut off that 80 per cent.
Of the ‘‘water’’ that is left, 99.5 per cent is polluted, too far underground or is trapped in soil moisture. Cut a sliver of .5 per cent from your paper.
Domestic animals, human consumption, agriculture and manufacturing must all share that small sliver of fresh water.
What can we do? Well sometimes, good ideas are rejected or left to rot.
That’s what happened to a good idea when Jenny Rowan, then mayor of Kapiti Coast, suggested that all new houses in the area would be required to have two tanks – one for domestic use and a second for grey water which would flush the toilet.
No question, it’s time for every municipality, community and household to learn water management and conserve this precious resource.
We should ALL be doing this ALL over the country.
No question either. Water is vital for all forms of life. The distribution of potable and irrigation water is scarce and an increasing population will further stress our water resources.
The percentage of fresh water reduced by pollution and contamination will affect the fundamental ingredient for life on Earth.
Just what is the not-so-super-city doing to sustain the present demand? And what are the water sources they aim to tap ‘‘going forward’’ (one of the current cliches) to assure supply for this massed population they intend to spread across the top half of the North Island?
Feeling a bit drawn by the figures? Then sit down quietly and have half a glass of water.
If there’s any left when you feel better please put it away to drink later. That at least is a beginning, a personal gesture to save cups and drops the experts say lie ahead of us ‘‘going forward’’.