Peak Water – Why You Should Care

Bruce Rayner, Contributing Editor, Enterprise Efficiency OEM | 3/9/2012 | 9 comments

Bruce Rayner
This post is a continuation of this week’s theme of “peak” resources. This time, the attention is on the most essential resource of them all: water.

As we learned in grade school, we humans are about 70 percent water. We cannot survive without it. And, like minerals, metals, and oil, water is a finite resource. Pressure on all finite resources is mounting as the world’s population grows and countries with massive populations like China and India move from developing to developed status. According to one estimate, there’ll be an additional 3 billion middle-class consumers on the planet by 2040.

At the same time, climate change models predict some regions of the world will grow drier. The US Southwest is one example. Also, glaciers in the world’s mountain ranges are receding, and snowfall and melting cycles are shifting. For instance, climate change in the Himalayas is already affecting billions of people in Asia, where snow melt from the mountains feeds major rivers, including the Indus, Ganges, Mekong, and Yangtze.

Manufacturers cannot survive without water, either. Whether companies make cosmetics, textiles, or high-tech gear, water is essential for production. It’s also essential for energy generation. From hydroelectric to nuclear to fracking for natural gas, it takes a lot of water to generate power. So as the water supply is affected and demand increases, the cost of a megawatt will increase.

By 2030, there’s projected to be a gap of 30 to 40 percent between global water supply and demand, according to McKinsey & Co. Research conducted by Veolia Water, the world’s largest water services company, in cooperation with the International Food Policy Research Institute revealed that about 20 percent of the world’s GDP is produced in water-scarce areas. By 2050, that figure will be 45 percent, assuming a business-as-usual trajectory. Of course, when it comes to water, business as usual is not an option.

The solution for companies, of course, is to have a long-term water strategy in place for dealing with the risks associated with shortages, cost, and availability. Beverage companies such as Coca-Cola are leading the way in water conservation strategies and investment. But so are apparel makers like Levi Strauss, cosmetic companies like L’Oreal, and semiconductor companies like Intel. And vendors like GE, Johnson Controls, Siemens, and Veolia are doing a brisk business supplying water conservation and purification solutions.

But companies don’t operate in a vacuum. They rely on municipalities to set standards and households to be educated and responsible water consumers. One municipality that gets it is Singapore, a hub of high-tech manufacturing. The city-state buys its water from neighboring Malaysia. However, to be more self-reliant, Singapore is investing in desalination plants and a wastewater treatment plant that would enable the reuse of wastewater for industrial purposes. The treated water is brought to the level of “pure” water, which is necessary for production in the semiconductor and electronics industries.

By 2060, Singapore expects to be able to meet up to 50 percent of its domestic water demand through these technologies.

If you manufacture in Singapore, the chances are good that you’ll still be there in 10 or 20 years. But what if you’re in Arizona or New Mexico? Do you know your municipality’s water strategy? Does your company have a handle on water risk? Do you have a long-term plan?

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LuFu   Peak Water – Why You Should Care   3/27/2012 12:50:03 PM
Re: H2O Politics
@Broadway - Hate to spoil your illusion about California but all the hippies left and moved to Sedona, AZ and Santa Fe, NM. Look out, rumors have it that they're on their way to Georgia.
Broadway   Peak Water – Why You Should Care   3/26/2012 11:00:03 PM
Re: H2O Politics
@LuFu, you Californian hippies should take care of your water issue like they do in the Southeast ... by getting your group prayer on. Or are you scared that God will favor Georgia for rain before She favors the Golden State of Sin? 
Syerita Turner   Peak Water – Why You Should Care   3/26/2012 6:53:27 PM
Re: Peak Water – Why You Should Care
@ Henrisha, I totally agree we don't have a lot of time to work with. What is the Gov't going to do about the issue and hopefully before it is too late.
LuFu   Peak Water – Why You Should Care   3/12/2012 1:40:39 PM
H2O Politics
@Bruce - An excellent thought-provoking article. In California, water has been a hot potato political issue for decades and decades. (Think Chinatown)

The state is split in a north-south and east-west political pie. The state reiies on the Sierra Nevada snowpack to feed the rivers that flow down to the Central and San Joaquin valleys that host one of the state's top industries, agriculture. Los Angeles does not have enough water for its population so they beg, steal, and borrow it from Northern California and Owens Valley (again, think Chinatown). In another large urban regions, San Francisco Bay Area, the water source is split, San Francisco and down the Peninsual to Palo Alto get their water from Hetch Hetchy reservoir in Yosemite. The rest of the Bay Area relies on local reservoirs and well water. In Silicon Valley much of the well water is contaminated from toxins leaching into the water system from semiconductor fab plants. Water siphoned off the Sacramento River for the California Peripheral Canal also desiccates the Sacramento Delta area that feeds into the Bay and is destroying local Delta habitats and farmland.

This winter is a dry one and well below so-called normal. The situation accentuates your point about Peak Water and how it's a Rubik's Cube of a problem for the state with no clear solution. Most proposals are watered down to assuage every faction but accomplish little. The term Dry State has traditionally been applied to a state where alcohol manufacture and consumption was restricted. No doubt this term will be applied to states' without water, AKA, a desert state.
Gigi   Peak Water – Why You Should Care   3/11/2012 11:39:36 PM
Gigi
Need for preserving water
Bruce, water is one of the environmental resource god has given to the nature. Without water nobody can survive including animal, birds etc. For industrial growth also water is very much required. We know that, due to global warming, water levels in all reservoirs are coming down and in future it may very difficult to find out water even for drinking. So as a part of social commitment we have to preserve water by making water bodies and by rain water harvesting.
Broadway   Peak Water – Why You Should Care   3/10/2012 8:03:46 PM
Re: Peak Water – Why You Should Care
I am skeptic that any us government -- local or federal -- is capable of handling the water scarcity issue. They only throw money at problems after it's too late. Plus, certain areas, like the Southwest, might seriously just need to depopulate.
Henrisha   Peak Water – Why You Should Care   3/9/2012 11:29:25 PM
Re: Peak Water – Why You Should Care
Now this is alarming. I was reading all about peak oil last week, and now, peak water? It's high time that governments and MNCs did something about this problem. However, what they're doing instead is greenwashing everything and going on huge "green" campaigns to reassure the consumers that they're taking action, when in fact, they're not.

And as a previous commented said, 2030 is not far off. We've got a little less than 18 years until we reach this point. And then what?
David Wagner   Peak Water – Why You Should Care   3/9/2012 5:36:31 PM
Re: 2030 isn't THAT far away
Thanks, Bruce. I have a question you may or may not be able to answer easily. Obviously, the problem is not water on the planet, or even fresh water, but water we can safely tap to use and drink. If we had millions of desalination plants and we got all the water we needed from the ocean, would that throw off our environment?

How much water would we have to take out of the ocean and what would we do with all the salt? And could we change the salt balance of something as big as the world's oceans?

I assume the answer is that eventually we could and we'll have to do something else. But it seems like we'd have centuries to work out the problem if we got the infrastructure in place.
kstaron   Peak Water – Why You Should Care   3/9/2012 5:15:36 PM
2030 isn't THAT far away
This looks like it might be eye-opening to anyone trying to keep manufacturing jobs in the U.S. The estimated percentages you quoted are mind-boggling. Where are good places to go to learn about ways to conserve or reuse water on the level of what a manufacturing company needs?


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