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World water supply and future problems 14:11min

This is an excerpt from the documentary: Blue Gold: World Water Wars about how much human development is harming rivers, emptying aquifers, polluting rivers and possibly causing desertification. This clips includes short interviews with scientists, farmers, activists and researchers who are concerned about how we are managing our water resources.

TRANSCRIPT

We’re entering into a unique stage of history

Water, which is the source of life itself, instead of being common and universal to everybody, because we all depend on it, profit is made out of the running of and the delivery of water to people and to communities

Those that have the ability to pay will have access to the water, those who do not have the ability to pay, will go without

and therefore it’s a life-and-death situation, in the final analysis, on the basis of profit

Thank you very much, and it’s a great honor to be on the stage with you

I want to talk, comrades and friends, about, uh, a global water crisis, in which we know that the world is actually running out of water

And that wasn’t supposed to happen, it wasn’t supposed to be able to happen — because we were all taught, back in, I don’t know, grade 3 or 6 or whatever, that, … there’s a fi- … there’s a cycle

When it rains, the water falls from the clouds, down all the way to the ground

It soaks into the ground and then the grass and trees grow

Sometimes there’s so much water underground that lakes and rivers just pop up, like when you squeeze a box of apple juice

The rivers carry the water back to the ocean

Inside the ocean, the water floats up to the sky as clouds again

Then the wind pushes the clouds towards land, and it rains again

This all happens over and over, forever and ever

How is our water being polluted?

Agriculture uses chemicals to increase farming productivity

Ironically implemented to counter a diminishing water supply, these chemicals pollute the groundwater

Automobile gas emissions pollute the clouds but perhaps the most damaging culprit is industry

Water pollution has been linked to the rising miscarriage rates in women, lower sperm counts in men, and it is so globally severe that the Malaysian government proposed the death penalty for anyone caught contaminating water

[2:43] This is the, uh, the most polluted river in the United States

Um, there’s active polio, uh, tuberculosis, hepatitis

Well, we try and, and reason with the aliens, and, you know, tell them what’s in the water, and try and get them out

None of the agents are going to get into that water to get any of these aliens, they’re just contaminated

We have a gate that we deploy across the river, down the ways a little bit, and um

We’ll deploy that gate, and then, they’ll all pretty much go back into Mexico

We already have a battery of shots that we take care here, um, at the local hospital

It’s about eighteen different shots for, … if any agent falls in that water, to keep from getting, … contracting something

What we saw today was a river of human sewage. The water smells like nothing you could
ever imagine, as much as twenty-five thousand litres per second flow…

It goes into the northeast where people grow crops that, later on, are sold into Mexico City Market so we are being poisoned. Our wastewater is returning to us in the form of food

When you look into the rivers you can see bubbles. That means that the rivers are losing oxygen

Contamination and pollution of the water systems is creating cholera, and, and … water diseases, killing more children today than malaria or AIDS or even wars themselves

The wetlands would normally have been a process whereby there would have been some, uh, cleansing of that taking place

It goes through the wetlands and it comes out more purified into the river systems, et cetera

But what happens when the wetlands are destroyed? Where we poison a certain amount of water that can never really be fully recycled

What we now know is that we are polluting and depleting the finite stock of fresh water so fast that we’re now mining the groundwater faster than it can be replenished

It rains. The water hits the ground and percolates into the soil, collecting underground into what are known as ‘aquifers’ or ‘groundwater’

But how much of our finite supply of water is underground?

We can only estimate, as there is no reliable method to accurately measure which is why our growing dependency on groundwater is such an urgent concern

[5:39] The fabled Atlantis in the Middle East had a real city attached to it. It was called Ubar, … (it) disappeared and no one could figure out what happened, and then some archeologists found it and what they realized is, it collapsed into the desert sand, from ground water pumping

Not only could it happen, it is happening today in Florida

Giant sinkholes have emerged all of a sudden, just big cavities in the ground, opening up

The effects are not always evident, as with a sink hole or a lost city

Entire regions can slowly and evenly sink as a watershed is depleted

[6:20] A perfect example is where Mexico City is now. There was once an oasis of water

When the Spanish came, they didn’t want their new city to look like, uh, Venice, they wanted it to look like Madrid

And they used slave labor to cut down all the trees that will protect the water sources, and to dredge the water systems

And what happened was that they just destroyed the water table

And, of course, that was one thing, when there were 10,000 people living there, it’s another when there are, what, maybe twenty-five million

They’ve taken the rest of the water underneath the city

The city is literally sinking in on itself and these great, big churches are beginning to, you know, go sideways

and Mexico is having to go further and further and further away from its local water sources ‘cause there aren’t any left, to find water

[7:08] Human ingenuity has found out ways to get water from beneath the surface of the Earth for thousands of years

What’s changed, though, is the technology

We now pump approximately thirty billion gallons of groundwater every day

[7:39] The farming community started tapping into our aquifers at a time when there really were not other demands on the resource

The way that the law works is, that they are allowed to use limitless qualities,

And then the added kicker is, that the law said, if you don’t pump, if you don’t defer all of this water, you may lose your water right

So, with that scenario, it doesn’t encourage conservation of water

I mean, why, why am I going to go ahead and quit pumping to save water, and lose everything?

So then a guy like me, who may want to quit pumping, to quit depleting the aquifer, … I have to keep pumping, in order to keep my water rights

When we pump water for such irrigation some of it percolates back into the ground which is called ‘recharge’ or ‘return flows’

So long as we pump no more than what is recharged, we are using the groundwater sustainably

The problem is, that where pumping up to fifteen times more water from the ground than is returning back into it, creating a global crisis

One thing that most people don’t know is that the world is desertifying and very quickly, we are becoming a desert in many places

Our soil is eroding

Simply meaning that overgrazing, winds and flooding damage the top layer of Earth, essentially hardening it to the point that rainwater cannot easily soak into the ground

Our life source, literally, slips away from us, back into the ocean through sewers and rivers, draining the land of its moisture and life

Extreme weather, a world of hurricanes and violent storms over the ocean, while the interior land receives less and less rain or violent, harsh storms that simply erode the land more

Deforestation is a major contributor to soil erosion

Tree roots absorb water and thus hold the watershed in place

When they leave the land, so does the water

Because the forests that held the water have all been logged, there is no place where the water can be stored

The rain still comes and runs away, as instant surface run-off

Just what I feared! He’s formed a gang and they are whooping it up for a flash flood.

They are rushing down the canyon. They’re made a wall of water twenty feet high! Look out!

No longer satisfied with flash floods, the gang is planning bigger and wetter floods.

Junior’s getting dangerous, he is getting tougher, and bolder, everyday!

[11:10] But groundwater pumping cannot alone be blamed for our desertification crisis

Cities are growing and expanding

For the first time in human history, more people live in cities than in the countryside

We’ve replaced permeable ground with hardscape; with roofs, parking lots, with homes

If it rains and the water doesn’t hit the ground, but hits the sidewalk or street instead, it can’t soak into the ground and make trees. It just slides down the street back to the ocean and makes more clouds

This means that the ground gets really dry and the grass and trees die

Clearly there is much more unpaved than paved land in the world, but the effect is cumulative and should not be underestimated

There is another problem with increased urbanization, which is our continued insistence to build housing for growing populations that demand more water than local watersheds can provide

People in housing development, … and they make money by turning houses, and they’re very large companies so their goal is to avoid the water issue that might limit the number of houses they might have

Instead of adapting our development to the available water supply of a region, we choose to force the world’s water supply to adapt to our desired locations

[12:53] What dams do is change the hydrologic cycle

They provide water during those months when the natural flow patterns do not

What’s happened is that we build these huge hydro dams mainly to create hydropower and hydroelectricity and when we’ve done that, we’ve done it in a very narrow framework

And we haven’t thought about the fact we’re going to need water for other purposes

In this quest to conquer nature, as some label it, we’ve constructed close to 50,000 large dams worldwide

But if we are headed towards desertification, by allowing too much rain water to run off into the sea, then is it not to our benefit to dam water and prevent it from reaching the sea?

One of the basic functions of rivers is to carry stuff from one place to another

and that stuff, which is really critical to the health of an entire watershed; it becomes completely and wholly interrupted when you build a dam

Dammed rivers fail to carry such nutrients and minerals downstream through the watershed, resulting in more soil erosion, less percolation when it rains, more runoff and thus, an increase in the desertification problem

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