The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource: Part 2-Distribution and Delivery

Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter
and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column
Published on 6/01/16, a SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Source: Water must sometimes travel over hundreds of miles in distances to reach those that depend on it the most. What is the real price of distribution and delivery of fresh drinking water, and how do we protect clean drinking water from being contaminated during its journey its final destination?

Water; without it our society comes to a screeching holt. Water is the source of life, and the vast majority of our way of being depends on it. From manufacturing, to food production, water is required to help us feed our planet and build the modern conveniences of today. Water is our most precious resource on planet earth, yet we put our future at risk every time we either waste this valuable commodity, and/or abuse it with pollutants.

Half of the United States depends on clean fresh water sources that must be re-distributed from another part of the country, sometimes having to travel hundreds of miles from its original source. With this journey, water faces another set of risk; the risk of being contaminated during its travel to its final point of delivery to customer. Aging infrastructure is at the center of attention, with recent series of circumstances of lead contamination in water supplies for Cities of Flint Michigan and Newark, which this corresponding issue runs parallel with the issue of available clean fresh drinking water.

A stressed economy, and metro centers with aged infrastructure and a shrinking population, only compounds amounting complications on how to fund and fix decaying pipes and waterways. In the instance of Flint, it’s not the distance in which the water must travel that is the issue, but how the water must get to end users. Flint’s Mayor Karen Weaver stated that it would take over $1.5 billion dollars to update the infrastructure that carries fresh water supply to residents and businesses in the region. In a report, published on March 21, 2016; it was found that the aging pipes that carried Flint’s water supply to residents, was contaminating the water due to old lead pipes. Decaying pipes would leak traces of lead into the water supply, which would then affect the quality of water at the faucet. The complete report can be reviewed by clicking here.

In other parts of the United States, such as baron Southwest, including the “four corner” states, which include Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah; have faced rapid population growth in the cities of Las Vegas, Phoenix, Santa Fe, and Salt Lake City, all which are major urban metro centers whom rely on water sources as far away as Colorado, face major water shortages. As these urban centers populations grow, infrastructure and the demand for clean fresh water increase, while the main supply, the Colorado River becomes over taxed and dwindles. New residents, whom locate to these metro areas, forget that these cities are in the desert, and bring with them the introduction of plant life and urban landscape not native or natural to the area. As more homes and lawns are added to the system, the demand for water rises.  Residents must make choices about curb appeal sacrifices in the name of water conservation.

California has also faced water crisis in the past few years. The amount of record rainfall needed to naturally sustain Southern California and its agriculture industry has been far below the norms. Urban zones like Los Angeles and San Diego have seen a rise in population growth. With the lack of rainfall, California is facing serious water shortage concerns. California is home to 70% of the nation’s fresh fruits and nuts, and 55% of the nation’s vegetable supply. Many parts of the state have instituted water restrictions on watering of lawns and washing of cars and sidewalks; however these practices are too little too late. As of recent, California has been getting water from water supplies that are tied to the Sierra Mountains of Nevada; in order to meet clean freshwater demands.

The further fresh clean drinking water must travel; the more at risk the water is to being contaminated along the way. In West Virginia, the Elk River was recently polluted by a manufacturing company whom was dumping pollutants which made its way into the waterway. This water is the main source of fresh clean drinking water for Central West Virginia.  The further water must travel to the point of delivery, the more filtration systems will need to be added to the system before the water is deemed potable.

New York City, home to over 8.5 + million people, gets its drinking water from the upstate New York. This means water must travel up to 125 miles before it is processed and filtered before it can be sent to kitchens and bathrooms all over the five boroughs.

So what standards are in place to assure that the water that has traveled hundreds of miles is the same or better quality as it is at the source? In the case of New York City, since most of the water is naturally filtered through a series of watershed areas, NYC water is relatively clean. NYC did begin to build a new state of the art water filtration plant known as the Croton Water Filtration Project. NYC infrastructure does have some aging issues, in which over 36 million gallons of clean fresh drinking water are lost to leaking each day.

In Flint, it’s a much different story. In order to save money, Flint Michigan began to source its water from the Flint River, which contains significant amount of chlorides, a corrosive agent to lead pipes. The filtration systems in place were in fact functional but when the water had traveled through the aging infrastructure, lead began to end up in water coming out of the tap. Since this issue was brought to light, the City of Flint had switched back to their original water source, water from Lake Huron.

Other types of technology are currently being explored in how to purify and re-distribute waste water into a usable water source for building cooling systems and refrigeration, irrigation for agriculture, and/or water for manufacturing or maintenance needs, so clean fresh water dedicated for drinking water can be preserved solely for human consumption.  Gray water is water from showers, laundry, sinks, and other non-sewage sources. Though this water cannot be digested by humans, it can be reused for the purposes of toilet water, irrigation, laundry, and car washes. Both biological and mechanical filtration systems are utilized in filtering and purifying gray water so it can be used again.

Sea and ocean water are being considered in places located near these sources, and where water is absolutely scarce. This process of removing saline, salt, and other harmful agents from sea or salt water is already used on ships and submarines. As it stands, 1% of the world’s population relies on this process for clean drinking water, however it is estimated by 2025, over 14% of the world’s population will be getting their drinking water from desalination.

As our population grows, and our access to clean fresh drinking water dwindles, the market of bottled water for sale will skyrocket. Our society has been trained by consumer habit and a strong marketing effort, where we now expect ourselves to purchase a case of bottled water as part of our practice when shopping for groceries. Thou these sources of water seem to be a bit better and trusted than scooping up water from our local lake or stream; not all bottled water is created equal as we discuss this in our next article; “The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource: Part 3-Quanitity vs. Quality.”