PRICELESS

August 20, 2012


QUESTION:  What is the most priceless—most important– commodity on our planet today?    Before you answer, let’s take a look at several commodities getting the most attention on a daily basis:

  • GOLD— $ 1614.00 per ounce
  • SILVER— $28.00 per ounce
  •  PLATINUM–$ 1472.00 per ounce
  •  PALLADIUM–$ 606.00 per ounce
  • OIL— $96.21 per barrel
  •  DIAMOND—Variable
  • RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL—Variable
  • RARE EARTH MATERIALS— Variable

 If we just went by the numbers, we would have to say gold is the most valuable with second place going to Platinum.  One is used for decorative purposes and one used in producing electronic components and other hi-tech assemblies.    I have another candidate.  A commodity that will become increasingly important as the years and decades go by.  I submit to you that in the near future, wars will be fought to secure water rights and access to water itself.  Please take a look at the map below.

 

The map itself isn’t hard to grasp. The colored areas show the world’s largest aquifers — areas which hold deposits of groundwater. The blue ones are doing fine; more rainfall is flowing into them than is being pumped out of them for homes or irrigating fields. As a result, these aquifers can continue to play a vital role in the environment. (Water in most aquifers doesn’t just sit there. It flows slowly, underground, and ends up sustaining rivers and lakes and all the creatures that live there.)

The aquifers that are painted red, orange, or yellow, meanwhile, are being drained rapidly. How rapidly? That brings us to the complicated part of this graphic.

See those large grey shapes, below the map? Each one is a magnified reflection of an over-exploited aquifer. The amount of magnification represents the amount of water that people are currently pumping out of that aquifer, compared to the rate of natural replenishment. Tom Gleeson, at Montreal’s McGill University, and Ludovicus P. H. van Beek, at Utrecht University, in the Netherlands, created this graphic for an article they published in this week’s issue of the journal Nature.

They call those magnified shapes the “groundwater footprint” of each aquifer’s exploitation. The footprint of the Upper Ganges aquifer, for instance, is 54 times bigger than the aquifer itself. Think about that footprint this way: It’s the size, on a map, of the area that would be required to catch enough rainfall to replenish that aquifer and make up for all the water currently being pumped out of it.

Some of these aquifers are being exploited at a stunning rate, but what’s truly alarming is how many people depend on that over-exploitation for their food. These aquifers include the Upper Ganges, covering densely populated areas of northern India and Pakistan, and the North China plain, which is the heart of corn-growing in that country. The aquifer of Western Mexico has become a large source of fruit and vegetable production for the U.S.

The High Plains aquifer in the United States, meanwhile, is having a particularly bad year. Farmers are pumping even more than usual, because of the drought afflicting this part of the country, and it is getting less replenishment from rainfall.  So water levels in the aquifer are falling even faster, leaving less water for the region’s rivers, birds, and fish.

This can’t go on forever. Already, many farmers are being forced to dig deeper wells to get at that water. But bigger changes are on the way:  New irrigation technologies that use water much more efficiently; a shift to different crops that demand less water; and in some areas, they’ll just have to stop using those underground stores of water altogether.  This year, 2012, cattlemen are selling their stock due to the remarkably high price of grain and other feed stocks.     In some parts of our country water rationing occurs due to significant drops in lake and river water levels.  Record wild fires are occurring in the western parts of our country due to lessening of annual rainfall during the “rainy season”.     We could spend a lifetime trying to determine the actual root cause but in the meantime, we have to deal with reality.  Reality says; let’s investigate technologies that can provide needed water quantities to suppliant what we have already.  Some years ago I had an opportunity to visit Dubai, UAE.   Fabulous visit and very insightful in several areas one being; most of their potable water is derived from desalination plants situated in the Persian Gulf.   The water is then treated and piped to the city itself.  I feel that our country needs to start planning right now for an event that is probable, possibly within my lifetime—a severe water shortage.  Your comments are welcomed.

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