The Great Lakes are a major source of fresh water for much of the industrial and agricultural Midwest as well as southeastern Canada. Now the US Geological Survey has released a report on what happens to the water after people take it out of the lakes. You can find the full report online here.
Here's how the USGS describes its report: "Consumptive water use is the portion of water withdrawn (for a particular use) that is evaporated, transpired, incorporated into products or crops, consumed by humans or livestock, or otherwise removed from the immediate water environment. This report, which is organized by water–use categories, includes consumptive–use coefficients for the Great Lakes Basin (including Canada) and for areas climatically similar to the Great Lakes Basin."
WHERE'S THE WATER GOING?
The survey outlined and then studied seven major categories of water use in the Great Lakes and along the Saint Lawrence Seaway: domestic and public supplies, industrial use, electric power generation, irrigation, livestock, commercial, and mining.
“We found that irrigation and livestock had the largest losses compared with total water withdrawn from the Great Lakes basin,” said Kimberly Shaffer, USGS hydrologist and author of the report. “Of the total water withdrawn for irrigation, 70-100 percent was lost to the basin.”
As water becomes more valuable that means there will be increased pressure on supplies for agriculture and more pressure to recycle water where possible. That can only add to food prices. And that will in turn fuel interest in cleantech applications for farming as it uses water.
The use of water not returned to the basin drops to less than 15% for most use categories: public and domestic water supply, industry, mining, thermoelectric generation. The latter returns 98% of the water it withdraws from the basin, says the U.S. Geological Survey. So this time no bashing of the energy companies. Clearly future water conservation and clean tech focus in this part of North America will be irrigation and agriculture. The USGS found irrigation water loss to the basin at 90% and 83% for livestock. Somebody who builds a rorcess for bacon or corn flakes that doesn't lose most of the water used will be in line to make some serious money.
Some industrial uses are far more profligate in losing water than the overall 12% average. Those losing 50% or more include: lubricating oils and greases, structural clay products, gaskets, packing, sealing devices, air and gas compressors, primary lead, gypsum products (like sheetrock), hardwood, veneer, and plywood, carbon black. So these industrial processes will also be ripe for cleantech apps as water necessarily becomes more scarce and valuable. It's not just water supply that becomes an issue with water use. Moving water from source to point of need is a major way America and other industrial nations consume energy. Thus any recycling or reduction in water use will reduce energy costs. And I don't hear predictions about falling energy prices in the near future.
If you want to read the summary report with lots of statistics, maps and detailed data, click here.
Answers to the water supply questions will come in two major areas. Conservation and new processes that use less water. Here's the website of the Water Environment Fedreation that is working globally on water supply issues.
And recycling. Here's a federal site on water recycling. There is already considerable commercial interest in water re-use and recycling tech. Here's GE's site on their efforts. One of the techs GE likes is reverse osmosis. Overall it's critical to note that only a tiny fraction of the enormous amount of water on the planet is potable for humans at any one time.
INTERESTING FOOTNOTE, JUST AFTER PUBLISHING THIS BLOG, I RECEIVED THIS EMAIL FROM U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY: "The U.S. Geological Survey and the Environment Canada Ministry are working to expand cross-boundary work on important issues such as; climate change, water availability, avian influenza, and bio-monitoring. This partnership will further streamline sharing of research from both countries and provide a framework to further benefit the relationships and sharing of science. The USGS will formalize this collaboration with Environment Canada by signing a Memorandum of Understanding on May 30."
Good idea, water issues are not just national, they're often regional and sometimes global.