World Water Day and The Big Thirst

by Lorne Mitchell on 22/03/2012

I have subscribed for several years now to a great site called ChangeThis – where anyone can publish a manifesto to change something that they think is important.  So it was today that I was browsing the site and found out that it is World Water Day.  Designated by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993, World Water Day is held annually on March 22. It’s a day to focus attention on the importance of freshwater and sustainable management of water resources that grew out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro. With over half of the world’s population now living in cities, this year’s focus is understandably on water and urbanization, under the slogan “Water for cities: responding to the urban challenge.”

There are quite a few statistics and factoids listed (mostly U.S. centric) that come from a new book called the Big Thirst, being released on April 12 by Free Press.  However, they still make you think:

  • Water is the oldest substance you’ll ever come in contact with. The water coming from your kitchen tap is about 4.3 billion years old.
  • A typical American uses 99 gallons of actual water a day–for cooking, washing, and the #1 personal use in the U.S., toilet flushing. But a typical American uses electricity at home that requires 250 gallons of water each day. And an American eating a diet of 1,700 calories a day is eating food that requires 450 gallons to produce–each day.
  • The average cost of water at home in the U.S.–for always-on, purified drinking water–is $1.12 per day, less than the cost of a single half liter of Evian at a convenience store.
  • Water and energy are intimately linked. Electric power plants in the U.S. consume 49 percent of the water used in the country. And water utilities are the single largest users of electricity in the U.S.–in California, 20 percent of all the electricity generated is used to move or treat water.
  • Water and food are also intimately linked. Worldwide, farmers use 70 percent of water. And agriculture is also one of the least efficient users of water. Half the water farmers use is wasted.
  • Americans spend almost as much each year on bottled water ($21 billion) as they do maintaining the nation’s entire water infrastructure ($29 billion).
  • Las Vegas has grown by 50 percent in population in the last 10 years–without using any more water now than it did back in 1999.
  • In the U.S., we use less water today than we did in 1980. As a nation, we’ve doubled the size of our economy while reducing total water use. We have literally increased our “water productivity” as a nation by more than 100 percent in the last 30 years.
  • Microchip factories require water that is so clean it is considered dangerous to drink.
  • The difference in price between home tap water and a half-liter bottle of water at the convenience store is a factor of 3,000–you could take the bottle of Poland Spring that you buy for $1.29 at the local 7-Eleven and refill it every day for 8 years before the cost of the tap water would equal that original price, $1.29.
  • We often hear that “only” 2 percent of the water on Earth is fresh and available for human use, outside of the polar ice caps. The “only” 2 percent comes to 1.5 billion liters of fresh water for each person on the planet. It’s 400 million gallons for every person alive. That’s a cube of fresh water for each us as long as a football field and as tall as a 30 story building.
  • The U.S. uses more water in a single day than it uses oil in a year. The U.S. uses more water in four days than the world uses oil in a year.
  • Enough water leaks from aging water pipes in the U.S. each day to supply all the residents of any of 30 states.
  • The city of London loses 25 percent of the water it pumps.
  • Seventy-one percent of earth is covered with water, but water is small compared to earth. If Earth were the size of a minivan, all the water on Earth would fit in a half-liter bottle in a single cup holder.
  • Not one of the 35 largest cities in India has 24-hour-a-day water service. Even the global brand-name cities like Hyderabad, Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai offer water service only an hour or two a day.
  • Treating diarrhea consumes 2 percent of the GDP of India. The nation spends $20 billion a year on diarrhea–$400 million a week–more than the total economies of half the nations in the world.
  • A common statistic is the 1 billion people in the world–one in six–don’t have access to clean, safe drinking water. But a less well-known statistic is equally stunning: 1.6 billion people in the world–one in four–have to walk at least 1 km each day to get water and carry it home, or depend on someone who does the water walk. Just the basic water needs of a family of four–50 gallons total–means carrying (on your head) 400 pounds of water, walking 1 km or more, for as many trips as required, each day.
  • Between 1900 and 1936, clean water in U.S. cities cut the rate of child deaths in half.
  • Water required to manufacture 1 ton of steel: 300 tons Water required to produce 2 liters of Coca-Cola: 5 liters
  • Cooling water a typical U.S. nuclear power plan requires: 30 million gallons per hour
  • Water that New York City requires: 46 million gallons per hour
  • Water required to maintain a typical Las Vegas golf course: 2,507 gallons for every 18-hole round of golf Each hole of golf, for each golfer, requires 139 gallons of irrigation water.
  • Average time a molecule of water spends in the atmosphere, after evaporating, before returning to Earth as rain or snow: 9 days
  • Amount of water that falls on a single acre of ground when it receives 1 inch of rain: 27,154 gallons
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