Weekly Column by Barbara Hirsch
Rain and snow supply much of the water we use, the runoff continuously filling freshwater bodies – lakes, rivers and reservoirs – in normal or wet seasons. That water is then filtered and treated before pouring out of our faucets and showers, flushing our toilets. About half of the U.S. population relies on this, the other half on water from groundwater supplies and aquifers, stored in natural formations underground and pumped to the surface. Groundwater supplies are rapidly being depleted, more for irrigation than anything, and most of that, for livestock feed. Certain industries such as mining and fracking use lots of water too.
Some recent news on our water supplies:
Today, more than a quarter million people in W. Virginia cannot drink, cook with or bathe with any water, thanks to a chemical spill from a Freedom Industries plant that produces chemicals for the coal industry.
Can you imagine that it became a good idea to fill facial and body cleansers with tiny plastic beads to scrub and freshen your skin? So where do they go from there? Down the drain and into our (fresh) water supplies and the oceans, ingested by fish and remaining for decades. The Great Lakes are inundated with them, but of course they are everywhere now.
One of the largest bodies of water in the U.S., the Ogallala Aquifer, will be gone if withdrawals continue at the current rate. It is hoped that advanced irrigation practices can be applied to avoid this.
Last summer in Canada, toxic waste from the Alberta oil sands spilled and killed all forest and plant life, the leak affecting an area said to be the largest of its kind in North American history.
Here in Santa Barbara we are currently at 19% of normal rainfall, with Lake Cachuma at 40% capacity.
The theme of this year’s World Water Day on March 22nd is Water and Energy, working to increase awareness and policy dialogue on their interdependence, globally.