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The Source of Life is Ebbing Away From Us

by Asinus Asinum Fricat Tue Apr 29th, 2008 at 12:40:05 PM EST

New Ageism? No. Stark reality. As I was returning home late last night, I was listening to a BBC report on the radio. Damning report indeed. By 2025, two thirds of the population will experience a severe shortage of water. I can't find the audio, but believe me, we are facing a serious crisis. The amount of water in the world is limited. The human race, and the other species which share this planet, cannot expect an infinite supply. The world is incurring a vast water deficit. It is largely invisible, historically recent, and growing fast.

The main conflicts in the world during the next 25 years could be over that most precious of commodities as countries fight for access to scarce resources. We have available less than 0.08% of all the Earth's water. Yet over the next two decades our use is estimated to increase by about 40%. Something has to give.

The inconvenience of a lengthy US presidential election means that a great amount of time is being lost. Instead of preparing for this incoming disaster, we are bombarded with inanities from the right wing nuts about Obama's choice of orange juice over coffee and idiotic accusations of bitter elitism. WTF is wrong with them?
Cross-posted from Politicook.net and DKos

Diary rescue by Migeru

We use about 70% of the water we have in agriculture. But the World Water Council believes that by 2020 we shall need 17% more water than is available if we are to feed the world. Meanwhile many countries suffer accelerating desertification. Water quality is deteriorating in many areas of the developing world as population increases and salinity caused by industrial farming and over-extraction rises. Exacerbating the problem, about 95 percent of the world's cities still dump raw sewage into their waters.

It's not all grim. There are some ways to begin to tackle the problem. I read that irrigation systems which drip water directly onto plants are one, precision sprinklers another. I'm a great fan of the CSIRO Australia's prime research organisation which strives to come up with less water-intensive crops among other things. Desalination may play a part though it is energy-hungry and leaves quantities of brine for disposal. However, Reverse osmosis has gained traction and has made great strides. The idea is to use the membrane to act like an extremely fine filter to create drinkable water from salty (or otherwise contaminated) water. The salty water is put on one side of the membrane and pressure is applied to stop, and then reverse, the osmotic process. It generally takes a lot of pressure and is fairly slow, but it works. This link provides 146 Products from 76 Companies involved in reverse osmosis, worth looking at. Osmosis, by the way, is why drinking salty water (like ocean water) will kill you. When you put salty water in your stomach, osmotic pressure begins drawing water out of your body to try to dilute the salt in your stomach. Eventually, you dehydrate and die slowly. Same thing if you drink your own urine if you happen to be stuck in a desert: you can drink your own urine but it decreases your period of survival. This I know from reading Bill Bryson's excellent book on Australia.

If you thought the title of this diary a tad feverish (and it is) the following extracts will not put your mind at rest either.

Fears of food shortage as rice prices keep climbing:

Food prices are continuing to sky-rocket throughout Asia, causing many governments to intervene to try to stabilise their domestic rice prices for fear of acute shortages in the future and possible food riots

A shortage of water allows more dust in the air, causing more respiratory problems:

Besides diseases caused by shortages of clean water, Health Minister Khristos Patsalides of Cyprus noted that decreased rainfall also allows more dust to circulate in the air, causing more respiratory problems. A similar warning came from Shigeru Omi, head of the World Health Organization's Western Pacific Office, who noted that at least 150,000 more people are dying each year of malaria, dengue fever, waterborne diseases, famine, and floods, all of which can be traced to climate change.

Alarm bells sound over arid land in Greece:

At a climate conference in Thessaloniki, Greece's second-largest city, researchers from the University of Thessaloniki said that changes in farming techniques and better management of groundwater were the keys to reducing the risk of desertification in several parts of the country. Professor Nikolaos Sillaios listed temperature increases, more wildfires, and more frequent flooding as the chain of events that led to soil erosion.

As the world warms, water, either too little or too much of it, is going to be the major problem for the United States:

Reduced snow melt supplying water for the Sacramento Valley in California means that by 2020 there won't be enough water to meet the needs of the community. That will step-up the competition for water. On the East Coast, rising sea levels will make storm surge "the No. 1 vulnerability for the metropolitan East Coast,'' said study lead author Cynthia Rosenzweig of NASA. "It's a very real threat and needs to be considered for all coastal development.''

A few weeks ago I wrote another diary on water. The links provided in that diary are relevant to this piece today.

In a couple of days, I'll post new findings on the disappearance of bees and concomitant reasons.
by Asinus Asinum Fricat (patric.juillet@gmail.com) on Tue Apr 15th, 2008 at 07:58:33 AM EST
irrigation systems which drip water directly onto plants are one, precision sprinklers another.

It's urgent to implement new ways of irrigating crops. The maize farmers around me (SW France) are currently gearing up on new pivots and folding pivots in expectation of the GM bonanza that will see them throw more N and H2O inputs at their fields to get more yield. These irrigation systems waste energy pumping water high into the air and spraying it out as mist -- a great deal of which evaporates in hot weather.

What needs bringing online is a system of biodegradable microporous tube laid down by the seed drill with each row of maize (or some better system if that one doesn't look like a winner). Some judiciously-funneled CAP subsidies to compensate for their investment in the other crap, and firm direction from the technicians that it's time to change. There's no reason I can see why it couldn't be done.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Apr 15th, 2008 at 09:06:00 AM EST
What needs bringing online is a system of biodegradable microporous tube laid down by the seed drill with each row of maize

Biodegradable veins--the tubes could also come in various chemical flavours such that if you had a certain soil problem X you choose tube type Y which, when it biodegrades (in a year?  two?) releases relevant chemicals into the soil to bring it back to maximum health--

I really like this idea!  Sorry Asinus Asinum Fricat, I went a bit OT.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Tue Apr 15th, 2008 at 09:22:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's a great suggestion.
by Asinus Asinum Fricat (patric.juillet@gmail.com) on Tue Apr 15th, 2008 at 06:42:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As afew demonstrates, it isn't shortage of water, it's the wastage of the water available.

There are real issues with irrigating marginal areas  leading to the salinification of arable land, a process that wouldn't occur if appropriate crops were grown.

But these are political problems and politicians are afraid of special interest groups such as the agro-chemical industry who will fund opposition to appropriate technologies that threaten their long (and short) term economic interests.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 09:39:41 AM EST
You're right of course, without political will, nothing will ever get done.
by Asinus Asinum Fricat (patric.juillet@gmail.com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 10:32:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is a shortage, but political issues are accelerating the problem.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Tue Apr 29th, 2008 at 01:14:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Source of Life is Ebbing Away From Us
It's not all grim. There are some ways to begin to tackle the problem.

There is a product that takes almost any kind of waste water (including sea water and urine) and using cow dung (or "anything that burns") as an energy input and a process known as vapor compression distillation converts that waste water into up to 1,000 liters of clean drinking water per day.  (As a bonus, it continuously outputs a kilowatt of electricity.)

This apparatus is about the size of a washing machine and its target cost is $1000-2000 per unit.  It is hoped that communities such as villages in water-deprived areas can collectively finance the purchase and use of this product through microcredit ("We have 200,000 rural entrepreneurs who are selling telephone services in their communities... The vision is to replicate that with electricity"*).

  • It is designed to supply a village with 1,000 liters/day of clean water. (Colbert Report)
  • You can use any water source -- ocean, puddle, chemical waste site, hexavalent chrome, arsenic, poison, 50 gallon drum of urine. (Colbert Report)
  • Vapor compression distillation is not new. Doing it in such an incredibly efficient way such that it takes only 2 percent of the power of convention distillers is new. (R&D World and Gizmodo commenter)
  • The are no filters to replace, no charcoal, no anything disposable (just distillation). (Colbert Report)
  • The Slingshot (as its called) can use half the waste heat (450 watts) from a sterling engine electrical generator (prototype also being designed by Kamen's company) to boil its water. (TED)
  • The heat put into the water is recovered with a "counter-flow heat exchanger" and recycled to heat the next batch of water (that is part of the novel bit). (TED and Gizmodo commenter)
  • Slingshot will be less then 60 lbs. (TED)
  • The prototype slingshot was hand-built for $100K. The goal is to get production units down to $1,000 to $2,000. (CNN)
  • The sterling engine, used as an electrical generator, can produce about 200 watts of power (it will never be more then 20 percent efficient) and 800 watts of waste heat (the waste heat that slingshot uses). TED
  • Later sources say the sterling engine can generate 1 kilowatt or enough power for 70 high-efficiency light bulbs. (CNN)
  • The sterling engine can run on anything that burns, propane or even cow dung. (CNN)
  • The slingshot is a David and Goliath reference aimed at putting water and power back in the hands of the individuals. (AP)

Wired Science from Wired.com

I posted a video of the product in your Earth Day Water News Roundup.

Patent outline for "Locally Powered Water Distillation System" at the bottom of this page.

A language is a dialect with an army and navy.

by marco on Tue Apr 29th, 2008 at 05:33:22 PM EST
Here in the "semi-arid" southwest, everything is irrigated. Our yard consists of a small area of grass that is irrigated by sprayers, and then an individual water drip line to each of about 100 bushes and shrubs and trees. It's all controlled by an automatic timer system that compensates for sudden rainstorms. Our system does not (yet) take into account the effect of the wind (which increases the evaporation rate), but the city park systems do.

This is typical for the American southwest, since you lose a lot of water to evaporation with the spray system. Regulations restrict the use of spray irrigation.

by asdf on Wed Apr 30th, 2008 at 09:33:20 AM EST

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