There just is not enough fresh water in the United States to sustain the current usage rates indefinitely. In America, as in the rest of the World, water reserves are facing a triple threat from a combination of human consumption, agricultural needs and industrial demands that stress our current reserves. Complications from climate change may further intensify these problems. As glaciers melt, they contribute to rising sea levels; they also are a fresh water reserve that is fast dwindling. Although Global measures are being set in place to combat and mitigate the effects of climate change the most effective advances in consumption control can often best be addressed on a local basis.
Not all industries use only fresh water, some can use water from other sources, particularly when it comes to water used in energy production and mining. The United States Geological Survey at the time of this writing has completed its analysis of the 2005 water usage statistics and summarized this usage in terms of million gallons per day on its web site. According to that data, the U. S. Geological Survey. estimates the 2005 total United States water usage as; 410,600 million gallons per day. Of that, 3,830 is domestic use, 44,200 is public supply and 18,200 is industrial usage. Fresh water usage for that year was 349,600. While thermoelectric use was a total of 201,000, fresh water for that accounted for 143,000 the remaining 43,000 came from other sources. Mining accounted for 4,020, their fresh water usage was 2,310 with 1,710 coming from other sources. The other industries tracked; Irrigation, Livestock and Aquaculture, showed no change between fresh and total water used.
Water is used in mining operations for grinding and separating minerals from the host rock. Some mines are successful in recycling and reclaiming the water on site. Other mine sites constantly draw in fresh water and discharge water as part of their production routine. . One highly successful method of reducing industrial fresh water use would be to reclaim and reuse more of the water reserves in mining operations. Reclaiming and reusing this fresh water would produce two benefits; it would reduce fresh water use for industrial purposes and it would lower amount of contaminates that are presently released into the environment from the mining operations. In recent years the increased use of fresh water for fracking processes and the subsequent contaminated water discharge has brought industrial use of fresh water reserves for mining operations under greater scrutiny. It is becoming more and more evident that measures must be taken now to provide greater efficiency in how the water resources are used and reclaimed by mining operations.
According the United States Geological Survey, excluding hydroelectric power, generating thermoelectric accounted for 41% of total fresh water use in 2005. . One of the main uses of these fresh water reserves was to cool the equipment. Because heated water cannot then be released back into the environment, additional energy resources are then devoted to cooling the water so that it may be released back into the environment. In coastal regions where power plants are located near salt water sources brine can be substituted for fresh water. Some methods to decrease the use of fresh water reserves would be to increase the efficiency of thermoelectric power plants thereby lowering the necessity for general water usage of any type, updating the quality of the equipment used to produce electric and cool the water could lower the use of fresh water throughout the process. Utilizing closed circuit geothermal reserves could also contribute the efficiency of the water usage by this industry. Another potential use of these water reserves could be to use the heated water for agricultural use where warm water might be an asset, rather that releasing it into the general environment where it has the potential of disturbing and even destroying delicate environmental balances.
A third method of conserving fresh water reserves would be to promote increased use of salt water, also known as brine, for industrial usage. While it is not possible to relocate many industries to coastal areas, there are other sources of brine that could be employed in these industries. In some regions, there are subsurface salt-water reserves available that could be substituted for fresh water. This is particularly true regarding fossil fuel reserves. One of the often-disregarded facts is that fossil fuels are often generated from organic matter produced in ancient seabeds. When these fuels were trapped in layers of bedrock so were the ancient sea waters as well. Although this ground water cannot be used for domestic and agricultural purposes it can be substituted for fresh water in mining operations. In some areas, there are sufficient salt water resources to provide substantial amounts of water suitable for mining. The increased use of brine in mineral extraction process would free up fresh water resources for domestic use and agricultural production.
The current usage rate of fresh water reserves are already unsustainable and per capita demand is increasing in all areas of usage; domestic human consumption, agricultural use and industrial uses. There is also an increase in water use because of population growth. This population growth alone is a serious problem, and it multiplies exponentially when the long reaching effects on water use are considered. Each person accounts for more than just a particular per capita adjustment for their personal drinking and sanitary fresh water needs. Increasing population means an across the board increase in water use. There is an increased need for agricultural food production. This shows up in aquiculture, livestock use and in irrigation needs for non-food agricultural products. People need to be clothed and housed; the manufacturing sector uses agricultural products for fiber, oils, and alternative fuel sources to name just a few products created from irrigated farm products. Increased population also means an increase in agricultural products and related water use in the industrial and manufacturing sectors. Even when an industry does not use agricultural products in its manufactured goods there are other demands related to manufacturing. Some companies use water in its products and water needed to cool the machines and clean the facilities.
Population growth also means an increase in water used to produce energy resources. Here again the population increase multiplies the need on unequal and increasing percentages. Mining operation need to tap more deeply into existing resource exploitation. As they go deeper to produce materials, the cost per unit of raw material increases as more effort is needed to exploit these deeper resources. This means greater water use per unit. As they go deeper more water is needed to bring the raw materials to the surface. Then additional water is used to separate the raw resource from the surrounding rock. Quite often, these raw minerals are of a lower grade and less pure than what is produced now. This means that additional water per unit is needed to refine them.
Once again climate change also factors into the problem. The complications from climate change further intensify these problems. The global measures that are being set in place to combat and mitigate the effects of climate change do nothing to help exploit the local resources. Global climate change measures are intended to slow and halt the climate change. They do not address the effects of climate change on an isolated land body. Each continent suffers differently. Within each continent, each individual nation has its own concerns about the effects of climate change. The combination of population growth and climate change multiply rather than just add to the cumulative effects.
Some of the effects of climate change could be mitigated by simply exploiting the natural resources in the most accessible areas if it were not for the increased needs created by a growing population. However, as exploitation areas are expanded to meet these needs of a growing population a greater percentage of additional water is needed Employing more responsible water use in the production and exploitation of resources is needed. This necessitates greater conservation and recycling efforts in the management of resources in all phases of domestic, agricultural and industrial production. These problems must be solved and steps made now so that the United States can move into a more sustainable water usage pattern.
U.S. Geological Survey. (2013). National Handbook of Recommended Methods for Water Data Acquision. Retrieved 05 07, 2013, from U.S. Geological Survay: http://pubs.usgs.gov/chapter11/chapter11G.html
U.S. Geological Survey. (2013, 01 10). Thermoelectric Power Water Use. Retrieved 05 07, 2013, from U.S. Geological Survey: http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/wupt.html
USGS Water Science School. (2013). Source and Use of Water in the United States, 2005. Retrieved 05 07, 2013, from USGS Water Science School: http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/wateruse-diagrams.html