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

May 3, 2017

Source: Water must sometimes travel over hundreds of miles in distance 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 towards its final destination?

Water—without it, our society comes to a screeching halt. This natural resource is foundational for our existence in life, and the vast majority of our way of being depends upon it. From manufacturing to food production, water is a vital requirement in aiding us to 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 redistributed from another area of the country, sometimes having to travel hundreds of miles from its original source. With this journey, water faces another set of risks, including the risk of being contaminated during its travel to its final point of delivery to the consumer. Aging infrastructure is at the center of attention, with recent series of circumstances of lead contamination in water supplies for the cities of Flint, Michigan and Newark, New Jersey, for which this corresponding issue runs parallel with the issue of available clean fresh drinking water.

A stressed economy, metro centers with aged infrastructure and a shrinking population, only compound the mounting 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 contained lead and were contaminating the water. The 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 the barren Southwest, entire communities are facing major water shortages. This includes the “four corner” states of Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah. Each 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 that rely on water sources as far away as Colorado. As these urban center populations grow, infrastructure and the demand for clean fresh water increase, while the main supply—the Colorado River, becomes overtaxed and dwindles. New residents that 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.

Over the past few years, California has also faced an ongoing water crisis. 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 percent of the nation’s fresh fruits and nuts, and 55 percent 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 growing, clean, freshwater demands.

The further fresh clean drinking water must travel, the greater its risk to becoming contaminated along the way. In West Virginia, the Elk River was recently polluted by a manufacturing company found to be 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 Upstate New York. This means water must first travel up to 125 miles before it is processed and filtered, then sent to kitchens and bathrooms all over the five boroughs.

So what standards are in place to assure that the water which 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, their 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. There are some aging issues within the infrastructure, resulting in over 36 million gallons of clean, fresh, drinking water lost to leaking each day.

In Flint, it’s a much different story. In order to save money, Flint 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 switched back to their original water source—water from Lake Huron.

Other types of technology are currently being explored regarding purification and redistribution of wastewater into a usable water source. These processes would be applied for building cooling systems and refrigeration, irrigation for agriculture, and/or water for manufacturing or maintenance needs. The outcome would provide clean, fresh, water dedicated for drinking, and 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. The 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 percent of the world’s population relies on this process for clean drinking water; however, it is estimated by 2025, over 14 percent 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. Though 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.

Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy and public policy concerns. He is also a career entrepreneur who currently is the CEO/President of Extreme Energy Solutions Inc., a green tech company located in Sparta, New Jersey. Burlum lends his expertise as a consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in a number of areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management and systems integration. He is also author of the books, The Race to Protect our Most Important Natural Resourceand Life in the Green Lane – in Pursuit of the American Dream.

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