Small items of big interest to water users
Salt–Free in El Paso
El Paso has taken a big step toward guaranteeing its water supply by building the world’s largest inland desalination plant. The plant, which opened this past August, will supply up to 27.5 million gallons of fresh water each day to El Paso and the nearby army installation at Fort Bliss.
El Paso gets its water from the Rio Grande River and the Hueco Bolson, a large underground aquifer. But the Rio Grande’s waters depend upon snowfall upstream, and in drought years the aquifer becomes all-important for the city. The Hueco Bolson contains large pockets of fresh water, but the majority of its water is brackish — not as salty as seawater, but far too salty for most human purposes.
El Paso’s $87 million desalination plant forces brackish groundwater through a series of reverse-osmosis membranes, removing salt and other contaminants and recovering about 83 percent of the original groundwater as fresh water. The salty solution that remains will be stored in deep injection wells 22 miles from the city, according to Karol Parker, public affairs officer for El Paso Water Utilities.
“This plant will help us ensure that we have sufficient water for the next 50 years of growth and development,” Parker says.
For more information, go to www.epwu.org/water/desal-info.html.
U.S. Water Use
Each day the U.S. uses about 346 billion gallons of fresh water, and nearly 80 percent of it is used for irrigation and thermoelectric power. Water for thermoelectric power is used to generate electricity with steamdriven turbine generators. The average U.S. citizen uses 80 to 100 gallons of water daily, most of which is flushed down the toilet. Flushing the toilet accounts for the largest amount of residential water use.
Approximately 85 percent of U.S. residents receive their water from public water facilities, while the remaining 15 percent get their water from private wells or other sources.
Water Water Everywhere
Water covers 70 to 75 percent of the earth’s surface, and the earth contains a total of about 326 million cubic miles of water. Humans can use only about three-tenths of a percent of this water.
Aquifers store more water than is found on the earth’s surface. The earth is a closed system, meaning that it rarely loses or gains extra matter. The water on the earth today is the same water that existed on the earth millions of years ago.
All Bottled Up
Gallons of bottled water on the market more than doubled from 1990 to 2000. In 1990, about 2.2 billion gallons made up the U.S. bottled water market, while in 2000, sales topped 5 billion gallons, according to the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA).
Non-sparkling water nearly tripled its market share, while sparkling water lost about 2 percent of the market during that period.
The industry’s growth has continued. In 2006, total bottled water volume sold exceeded 8.25 billion gallons, a 9.5 percent increase over 2005, the IBWA reports. The wholesale dollar sales for bottled water exceeded $10.8 billion.
For more information, go to www.bottledwater.org.
But Is It Safe to Drink?
The United Nations has developed an ambitious program of goals it hopes will ease the world’s clean-water crisis by the year 2015. Goals include making clean water and sanitation priorities, requiring that every individual have access to 20 liters of clean, fresh water daily, and mandating that economically disadvantaged people get water for free.
The UN’s Human Development Report 2006 cites the lack of safe, sanitary water as one of the most urgent humanitarian crises facing our planet.
Nearly 2.6 billion people in poor and developing countries lack access to even the most rudimentary sanitation. As a result, thousands become too ill to go to work, attend school or maintain normal functioning family life. An estimated 1.1 billion have no reliable access to clean, safe drinking water. As a consequence, 1.8 million children in the world’s poorest countries die annually from diarrhea and other water-borne diseases.
For more information, go to http://hdr.undp.org.
Fill Up the Tub
The Edwards Aquifer provides drinking water for more than 1.5 million Texans. Like a bathtub’s overflow drain, the Comal and San Marcos rivers flow from the aquifer when it is 95 percent full.
“There’s a lot of water, but when it drops below that level, those springs stop flowing,” says Mary Ambrose, a TCEQ policy specialist.
SB 3 lifted groundwater withdrawal caps from the aquifer to 572,000 acre-feet from its previous mark of 450,000 acre-feet. If all issued withdrawal permits were pumping, the total would have topped the previous cap, Ambrose says. The Edwards Aquifer Authority, which regulates use of the aquifer’s water, will also assist in studying threatened and endangered species that rely on the aquifer for habitat.
Water Funds for Communities
The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) approved financial assistance in August for $12.5 million in water-related projects in Texas communities. The funding comes from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and will pay for wastewater system improvements for the Harris County Water Control and Improvement District and the City of Los Fresnos in Cameron County. The TWDB is charged with collecting and disseminating water-related data, assisting with regional planning and preparing the State Water Plan for developing the state’s water resources.
For more information, visit www.twdb.state.tx.us.
Source: Texas Water Development Board.
Drops Add Up
Follow these tips to conserve water at home:
- Don’t water your lawn too often and avoid watering during the hottest part of the day or when it is windy.
- Run the dishwasher and washing machine when they are fully loaded.
- Thaw frozen food in the refrigerator or microwave instead of running water over it.
- When hand-washing dishes, use two basins — one for washing and one for rinsing rather than letting the water run.
- Clean sidewalks and driveways with a broom, not a hose.
- If you have a swimming pool, get a cover. You’ll cut evaporation loss by 90 percent.
- Repair dripping faucets and leaky toilets. Dripping faucets can waste about 2,000 gallons of water each year. Leaky toilets can waste as much as 200 gallons in a day.
Source: American Water Works Association.