FRESH WATER – What we are doing to it!

FRESH WATER – What we are doing to it!   Clean, fresh water — appreciated when it is scarce — is the most versatile and necessary liquid on earth.   by Clayton Steep The Plain Truth, April 1986   FRESH water — we need it to function, to drink, to grow food, to bathe in. Life depends on it. There is no artificial water, no “synwater.” It has to be the real thing. Seventy-five percent of the surface of our planet is covered with water. Vast amounts are to be found underground. So what’s the problem? The problem is that not all water is fresh. And what clean, usable fresh water there is is becoming scarce for larger and larger segments of humanity. Actually, the earth’s water has been transferred time and time again from the oceans into the atmosphere, onto the land from where it has flowed back to sea, there to start the cycle over. It is as King Solomon perceived long ago: “All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full; to the place from which the rivers come, there they return again” (Eccl. 1:7, Revised Authorized Version). This process — the hydrological cycle — means that the oceans, the atmosphere and the sun all work together like a gigantic distillery. The heat of the sun on the oceans and other bodies of water causes water to evaporate into the air. The vapor-laden air eventually dumps its moisture in the form of dew, rain, snow or hail. Some falls directly back into the oceans, some falls on land. That which falls on land becomes springs, lakes, rivers and streams — fresh water suitable for man’s use.   [Photo Caption — Fresh water is abundant in the Amazon Basin (circular photo). Not so, however, in many other areas of the world, as depicted in the smaller photos. Left to right: Debris from civilization renders ugly a peaceful pond. An official runs tests on polluted water. To victims of drought in Africa, all water is precious. Effluent snakes its way down a river.]   Under the crust of all of earth’s continents are additional vast networks and bodies of water called aquifers — slowly flowing like underground rivers. This too is fresh water. It comes from surface water that soaks down through the soil and rock formations, finally emptying into the seas. Only fairly recently has it been realized how extensive this system is. Some of the underground water extends as much as three miles below the surface. In the top half-mile of the earth’s crust alone there is estimated that there is more than 30 times the amount of fresh water than what is contained in all the lakes, rivers, streams and inland seas on the surface put together. All this fresh water may sound like a lot of water. But what may not be realized is that about 97 percent of all water on earth is salty, ocean water. Of the three percent that is left, slightly more than two percent is locked up as ice in polar regions. That leaves less than one percent fresh water on land and under it. Still, the amount of fresh water constantly available could support several times this world’s population. It could. But it is not even supplying the present-day needs of the human race as a whole. Why?   Population Distribution     Since the beginning, human societies have tended to locate and develop near river basins, lakes and other fresh water sources. During the course of time populations have increased out of proportion to available water. Political borders have sectioned off water supplies. Even weather patterns change. Population as a whole today is not distributed in the same way that fresh water is. For example, 11 million people massed in more than 130 cities in the desert and semidesert regions of Southern California depend heavily on water brought in from hundreds of miles distance by pipelines and aqueducts. The population has grown far too large for the local water supply. In crowded Hong Kong the situation is more complicated because international borders are involved. Here are not only too many people for available water, but the main supply originates in and is controlled by a neighboring nation, the People’s Republic of China. Worldwide, three fourths of the rural population and one fifth of the city dwellers do not have access to an adequate supply of water. Millions of women spend a good share of each day walking 10 miles or more from their homes just to obtain enough water for drinking and cooking. The World Health Organization designated the 1980s as International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade. It hopes to bring about “safe drinking water and adequate sanitation by 1990… for two billion people in the developing countries.” This at the estimated cost of some $30 billion a year. By contrast to these areas, the mighty Amazon, largest river in the world, winds its way through sparsely inhabited tropical rain forests, dumping its incredible volume of virtually untapped water into the ocean. The great Congo (Zaire) River, second largest on earth, flows through jungles and empties over cataracts into the Atlantic. Other major rivers such as the Mackenzie (Canada), the Yukon (Alaska) and the Ob and Yenisei (Soviet Union) run off into the frigid Arctic Ocean virtually unused. Lake Baikal, the largest and deepest single body of fresh water on earth, sits in relatively sparsely populated Asiatic Russia. In those societies that have had an adequate supply of fresh water, the tendency has been not to appreciate it. Turn the tap on. Out comes the water. There has been water for bathing, washing the car, watering the lawn, operating industry, supporting agriculture and fulfilling thousands of other functions from filling water beds to carrying away sewage. Outside of air for breathing, probably nothing has been more taken for granted by those who have it than water.   Not so “Fresh” After All     Today enormous quantities of industrial wastes are poured into lakes, rivers and streams, creating chemical soups. Thousands of injection wells have been dug where toxic wastes have been pumped directly into the ground, thereupon polluting aquifers. It has been estimated in scientific studies that up to half of the water in the ground is already contaminated either with disease-producing bacteria or industrial waste. Others say the problem is not yet catastrophic. But if yours is the water that is contaminated, it is a catastrophe for you! In too many areas a person simply cannot obtain drinking water that can be guaranteed to be pure. It certainly isn’t available from his tap. Nor can water from rain and snow be relied upon as pure. And who can sort through the advertising claims for all the brands of bottled water, water filters and distillers now on the market? For dirty water, industry (and agriculture) should not get all the blame, as is too often the case in problems of acid rain. Pollution is also caused by such varied non-“industrial” sources as the excessive use of household detergents and drain cleaners, the accumulation of filth from city streets, leaks from underground petroleum tanks, lead and cadmium dissolved from water pipes. Just think for a moment of all the things water is used daily to clean and dilute. One factor responsible for the significant disappearance of pure water is the dumping of sewage into fresh water supplies. This totally illogical practice is commented on in the “Bulletin of Atomic Scientists” for November, 1975: “To a visitor from another planet it would seem incredible that human beings who are intelligent enough for space travel solve their problems of personal hygiene by putting their body wastes into the public drinking water and then spend billions in futile efforts to restore the water to its original condition.” Many are coming to the conclusion that the flush toilet, long considered one of the prime symbols of civilized progress, may turn out to be one of the more harmful devices inflicted on modern society. About 40 percent of all water piped into a home is used — or rather, wasted — by the flush toilet. The average person using one contaminates 13,000 gallons of fresh water a year to wash away 165 gallons of sewage. But this wastage isn’t the worst problem! Nor are the huge expenses involved in constructing and maintaining complex sewer lines and treatment plants. The most negative aspect is that some of the effluent becomes part of the water supply to those who live downstream. At times plain raw sewage is just dumped into lakes and rivers. Or raw sewage can leak out of aging sewer lines and thus befoul surface and underground water. Even when the sewage reaches treatment plants and is processed, unwanted by-products still pollute water supplies. A financial headache for cities using treatment plants is what to do with all the sludge taken from sewer water. Some cities just flush it out to sea. Some offer it as fertilizer. However it is disposed of, its accumulation is a constant problem. While an increasing number of researchers believe Western society took a wrong turn a century ago when it adopted the running water-flush toilet system, many assert there is nothing economically feasible that can be done to change it now. And so, industrial nations are headed toward a real dilemma: They can’t afford to give up the flush toilet now, yet the time is coming when water won’t be available at an affordable price to flush it. Then what? It’s not that there aren’t alternatives. There are increasing numbers of them on the market. The best systems are based on the sensible principle laid down in the Bible long ago, but ignored by society: Human waste ought to be carefully reintegrated, through microbial activity, with the ground (Deut. 23:12-14), not dumped into the drinking water supply!   Add Floods and Drought     To all these factors making fresh water scarce, add two more: floods and drought! Floods occur when rain falls in excessive quantities or in improperly drained regions. Such occurrences can interfere with supplies of clean water. Drought is caused by rain either not falling, or falling in the wrong places — over the oceans, for example, instead of over the land. Dry conditions are producing a whole new set of complications. As groundwater is being depleted in some areas, seawater is seeping in and mixing with the fresh water. Or the land is simply collapsing and sinking in. Worldwide, three fourths of the available fresh water supply is used for irrigation. Much of this water comes from underground reserves. The vast Ogallala aquifer, the main water source for the North American Great Plains (called the breadbasket of the world) is being severely depleted. Likewise the water table under the agriculturally critical San Joaquin Valley in California has been so lowered that the land has settled 30 feet in some places. As the water level drops it is becoming very expensive to run electric pumps to draw water out. Yet if agricultural output declines substantially in these areas, significant effects, nationally and internationally, occur. What is needed is clean rain in the right places, in the right quantity. But that is becoming increasingly rare, and most people do not know why!   Healing Waters!     The period of time God has allowed for human beings to go their own selfish, competitive ways and to struggle with their problems in their own ways is about to come to a sudden close. Human history is a record of how nations have rejected God’s government and his spiritual law that would bring peace and joy. The God who created nature and all the water there is, is beginning to punish humanity, as a parent punishes a disobedient, self-centered child, till we learn our lessons. One of the ways he punishes nations is to allow the altering of water supplies. He may accomplish this either by letting humans reap the results of their own folly (Jer. 2:19; 4:18), or by intervening in human affairs himself (Deut. 28:20, 23-24). In either case, severe shortage of vital water supplies is one of the conditions God will use to bring us to our senses and cause us to at last submit to his ways that bring satisfaction, peace and prosperity. When God sends the Messiah to set up his kingdom over all nations, the powers of this world will have brought this earth to chaos and near-total ruin. The policy of God’s government will be to heal, rebuild and restore until the whole world is a paradise. Think of it — no more shortages of water as nations learn to obey God. Rain will come when it should (Ezek. 34:26) and in just the right amounts (Ps. 65:9-13). Where will be the need of complicated irrigation systems and huge dams with all of their known drawbacks? Vast deserts and desolate expanses will be inhabited: “I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water,” God promises (Isa. 41:18, Revised Standard Version). Pollution of the environment will not be tolerated (Rev. 11:18; Isa. 11:9). Only then will the world’s supply of fresh water be abundantly adequate for all earth’s inhabitants.]]>