Water, Water Everywhere

“…but not a drop to drink,” at least according to Coleridge’s The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. The poetic claim is based in reality: about 3/4 of the earth’s surface is water, but 97.5% of that H2O is salt water. Thus, while we may seem rich in this ordinary resource, in truth wise use of water presents considerable challenges.

Last week Erik Fyrwald, president of Ecolab (recently merged with Nalco) presented an address to CHF’s Joseph Priestley Society entitled “The Water Challenge: Improving Resourcefulness to Overcome Limited Resources.” In front of a packed lunchtime house he enumerated three overarching water challenges:

  1. 76 million new people arrive every day on the planet, each of whom requires water.
  2. When peoples or populations emerge from poverty (a good thing) their demand for water increases (not such a good thing).
  3. Global warming adds to the demand for ever higher water consumption, particularly in warmer climates.

While agriculture claims the lion’s share of water use, the fastest growing share is industrial, largely because of developing countries. Erik cited several examples of how industry is doing its part to find new ways to be responsible stewards of the earth’s water. For example, a gallon of oil extraction is currently accompanied by three gallons of water. Industry expects that by 2025 this ratio will be twelve. Quipped Mr. Fyrwald, “the energy sector is really a water extraction industry that brings oil along with it.”

We also learned that at the Davos World Economic Forum there is an energy working group that brings together industry, government, and NGOs to share best practices in water use and conservation. It’s reassuring to know that smart people are on the case, and somehow makes perfect sense when they are surrounded by tall Swiss mountains covered with frozen water.

Tom Tritton is President and CEO of CHF.

Water [World Economic Forum]
Episode 106: Water [Distillations]

Posted In: Education

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