Wa­ter a drop in the bucket

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS -

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.

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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’’.

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