It may seem hard to swallow, but that tall glass of ice water you had with dinner last night also may have helped refresh a thirsty brontosaurus eons ago.
Contrary to popular belief, water is not a renewable resource. It is finite. The water you use today is literally the same water that existed on the planet billions of years ago. Nature recycles water. It doesn’t make new.
Also, as you no doubt learned in school, over two-thirds of the earth’s surface is covered by water. But did you know that only about 2.8 percent of it is fresh water? And, more critically, did you know that only about 0.3 percent of the earth’s total water supply is usable by humans?
In the last decade of the 20th century alone, the earth’s population increased by more than one billion people. At present rates, over the next 50 to 90 years the world’s population will more than double. The demand on water supplies is growing exponentially. Clearly, understanding and using scarce water resources wisely is vital. Our very survival as a species depends on it.
Count the ways you and your family use water. Drinking. Cooking. Bathing. Doing laundry. Housecleaning. Watering the lawn. Washing the car. Giving the dog a bath. In industrialized countries, the average family of four consumes 250 gallons of water each day.
But that’s only a small part of the water usage picture. So many of the things that we take for granted, things that make our lives easier, also depend on water—vast quantities of water.
Consider that it took approximately 100,000 gallons of water to manufacture your family’s car. The newspaper that landed on your doorstep last Sunday morning soaked up 280 gallons of water just to print. And that five-pound sack of flour sitting on your kitchen shelf required 375 gallons of water to produce. In the United States, water consumption increased by more than 100 percent in the last half century. In the same period, it rose by more than 500 percent in Europe and 300 percent in Africa. Many experts predict world consumption will double by 2020.
You’re not alone if you’re concerned about the water you and your family drink. A survey by the Water Quality Association found that three-quarters of Americans don’t believe their household water supply is as safe as it could be. In a recent USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll, 47 percent of respondents reported they won’t drink water straight from the tap.
Environmental problems have an enormous impact on water quality. Water runoff from industrial plants and farms, acid rain and other forms of pollution have tainted groundwater and surface water supplies in many areas of the world. Population growth, urban and suburban sprawl, and industrial and agricultural expansion continue to stress fresh water supplies.
Water contamination problems, epidemic in the developing world, also routinely occur in highly industrialized nations. In the last half dozen years, numerous cases have been recorded in the United States, affecting tens of millions of consumers in more than 1,000 communities.
Some of the most serious incidents have involved bacteria. A 1993 outbreak of cryptosporidium in Milwaukee affected more than 400,000 residents and caused more than 100 attributable deaths. Other virulent pathogens have also intruded into municipal water supplies with alarming frequency.
Today governments around the globe, on every level, are investing hundreds of billions of dollars to improve infrastructure and mandate higher water quality standards. In addition, more and more individuals are relying on modern home water treatment systems to assure an ample supply of fresh, pure water for their families at the most local of all levels—the home.