Water’s Other Valuable Roles in our Modern Society

Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter
and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column
Published on 9/30/16, a SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Source: To survive and thrive as a civilization, our reliance upon pure, uncontaminated water goes beyond our drinking needs. Society is equally as dependent upon clean water that comes from trusted sources for commercial and industrial consumption. So how much water is actually required to sustain our society’s needs?

Water – the very essence and building block of life. In our current day and age, many people take one of the most valuable, natural resources we have for granted. Life today is so modernized and fast paced, that rarely do we take time to think about all of the reasons we are dependent on water. Whether it is for drinking or our use of this vital resource for manufacturing products, water is a critical component in the majority of aspects regarding the operations of society. The lack of water in some countries is a matter of national security, as they depend on neighboring nations. Every industry relies on water to manufacture its goods. Water is essential for food production. Even sewage treatment is dependent on water to assist with our waste water management. So how much water is needed to sustain all the moving parts of our society? We will take a look at five essentials within our society where water is most critical in supplying the things we need in order to maintain daily life.

Food production is vitally dependent upon having clean, fresh water supplies for growing crops for our consumption. In the United States alone, there are about 442 million acres of land which are dedicated to farming and raising crops of plants; which includes growing food for humans and for livestock. Many of these crops rely on irrigation when rain seasons fall short to deliver rain water consistently throughout the growing season. Much like our drinking water, water for farming and gardening comes from many of the same sources. Agriculture and horticulture account for eighty percent (80%) of all ground water usage within many of the nation’s region, and up to ninety percent (90%) in some of the western states. In relation to farming, states such as California, Texas, Idaho, and Florida are the largest consumers of water. Their water usage is almost always freshwater, which is a major stress on water left for public drinking water supplies. Water for agriculture does eventually work its way back into the eco-system.

A substantial amount of energy is required when it is produced from thermoelectric energy, which is our second largest source of water consumption. This process of producing energy from thermoelectric involves the use of serious amounts of our water sources. Water is utilized to assist in cooling equipment which aids in the production of electric power. Heat exchangers circulate the water and then return it to its source. Another form of water – steam, is used to turn turbine generators, resulting in the production of electric power. Not all of this water is fresh water. Some of it is sourced from salt water, or saline water.

Water can also be used for hydro-electric power generation. Water for hydro-electric power comes by way of damming up rivers and building hydro-electric power plants that are integrated into the falls of the river. A leading example and most well-known is the Niagara Falls, which was the first hydro-electric power plant in the United States. Niagara Falls relies on overflow from Lake Erie into the Niagara River as well as into Lake Ontario. Another highly recognized example of water being put to work to generate electric power is the Hoover Dam. This dam is situated on the Colorado River between Nevada and Arizona. The Colorado river relies on water from melting glacier and ice caps located high in the Colorado Rockies.

Water is necessary for the manufacturing of consumer goods, vehicles, and just about all material items we purchase as modern conveniences. Water is required for mixing paint, which is a base for paints when painting the inside of a home. Water is required to rinse away the left over materials from manufacturing a product, and to wash away any unwanted debris, shavings or millings left behind by the manufacturing process of that particular product. Water is also needed to supply these manufacturing facilities with fresh drinking water for employees, showers in locker rooms, and for restroom toilet facilities. Many manufacturing sites have air conditioning units, due to the nature of the need for a temperature controlled environment; water is used as part of the air conditioning-cooling process. Just the same, these facilities may use water to convert to steam for heating the same facilities.

When manufacturing raw goods, such as metals or plastic, water is one of the most important elements added to the process. Water is used to cool down steel or strengthen it when the hot steel is dipped in water immediately after the shape of the metal has been formed. Utilized as a natural cleaning agent, water is sometimes applied under high pressure to prep materials for their next phase of manufacturing purpose, and sometimes it is mixed with a chemical to sterilize a particular metal for food or medical use. Water is an added ingredient in making plastic, and used to clean plastic parts. Its heavy use in the process of manufacturing on CNC machines is critical, as this resource is projected onto the surface of the widget being manufactured, in order to keep the widget and the drill bit and/or laser cutter cool for accurate manufacturing of the widget.

Water is in high demand in the construction industry. The manufacturing and application of cement and concrete rely upon it. Water is part of the process in making lumber and building materials. The construction industry also depends on its industry partner of mining and quarry for aggregate materials (stone, sand, rock) which is used in erecting buildings and the manufacturing of construction materials. Water is necessary for “washing,” or filtering dust and impurities from aggregate materials. Once buildings are constructed, approved and occupied, many then rely on copious amounts of water sources for maintenance, including irrigating of plants and grounds. Water use for landscaping must be uncontaminated. Golf Courses are the largest consumer of fresh water sources for their buildings and grounds preservation.

One very controversial use of water pertains to the oil industry. This is for a process called hydro-drilling/hydro-fracking; where a deep well is drilled far below the earth’s surface into pockets where oil and gas preserves may be located. These pockets are found in very hard to reach places hidden inside either rock formations and/or softer material caught between large fissures of rock. Fracking fluid, usually consisting of water, other chemical agents, and sand, are put under high pressure then pumped into these crevices where oil and gas exists, forcing these substances to float to the surface. Unfortunately, fresh clean drinking water is used to make the chemical mixture, and there has been little effort on how to remediate the spent water mixture once it has been put to work in the oil and gas wells. To make matters worse, this mixture of material, with a water base, is then left in the ground, and seeps into other ground water supplies, including private wells for drinking water.

Sewage treatment requires not only spent water, as it is part of the sewage, but fresh water that is added to help filter out contaminates. Sewage treatment in the United States is some of the most advanced in the world, yet it still requires fresh water supply. In some countries, which do not have sophisticated and modern infrastructure, sewage is directly dumped into streams, rivers, lakes, harbors, and even water ways reserved for travel. As sewage is introduced into water sources reserved for drinking water, or is also needed for drinking water, larger problems arise. Unsanitary and poisoned water leads to a series of health hazards, some of them catastrophic to entire populations.

Countries without strong sources of fresh, unpolluted drinking water will lack the most fundamental base of an economic engine; manufacturing. Nations that lack water for manufacturing are at the mercy of trade agreements in regards to how much their population will pay for goods and services from other nations. Many countries in the Middle East are without water, or have negligible resources to rely upon. This leaves them forced to utilize other forms of creating value with which to meet their countries’ economic needs, such as tourism, information, technology, and fossil fuels; where fossil fuel exists. Many of these countries purpose to be central distribution and entry points to the region for goods and services from Europe, China, and the US, to the Middle East.

As you can see, there are far more uses of fresh water in our society than one often considers. As a society we usually only focus on what is in front of us; on which pours out of the faucet or comes out of the shower head. The hidden danger is where we waste water in all of the other areas of our lives.