02 Apr Aqua Vitae
Water is precious. Apart from the simple fact that without water we die, we use water in so many other ways. One can only appreciate the multitude of uses when the supply which we take for granted is withdrawn.
The mains pipe supplying water to the entire city of Waterford broke / was broken on Wednesday last, causing a cessation of service for almost 3 days. Even when the water did flow, the corporation warned that consumers should boil water before use. Supply has now returned to normal, but this may be a foretaste of things to come.
The county of Yorkshire in England can testify to just what a long-term drought is like. They have had the driest winter in memory, which has led to Yorkshire Water having to truck in tankers from less-affected neighbours. They have spent some £3 million this year on repairing leaks in their water system, to ensure that whatever water is there is not wasted.
Reservoirs all over Britain and Ireland are shrinking, and causing grave concern to authorities and environmental bodies in both countries. Increasingly dry weather over the past decade has meant that a resource which we have previously taken for granted has now become a precious asset. Those regions, especially in Britain, that have found themselves in possession of a surplus of supply are finding themselves with a commodity to sell. As fortuitous as this is for some, it must be merely a matter of time before the shortages are so widespread that there is nowhere to buy water from. That’s when the situation will be acknowledged as serious, though many already see it as reaching a critical point sooner rather than later.
The measures that can be taken at the moment are only stop-gaps, ensuring that waste is cut to a minimum, engineering adaptations. As to the long-term, the problem of drought in this part of the world is related to the Greenhouse effect. Weather patterns have been changed by the altered chemical make-up of the upper atmosphere, which has been caused by pollution. International agreements have attempted to control emissions of the so-called Greenhouse gases, but these have come up against the barrier of economic considerations. It has been estimated that for every year we spend pumping pollution into the air, it will take the planet 10 years to recover. As many of the signatories to the anti-emission pacts have negotiated themselves exemptions or extensions from the agreement, the length and severity of emissions has not altered significantly.
The near future may see new world powers created by their resources of water as the countries of the Middle East gained their power and wealth through oil. The new distribution of this precious resource will also affect the ability to produce sufficient food for the populace. Traditional methods of intensive farming have denuded the land of nutrients. The American mid-west, the agricultural centre of the States, is suffering from massive soil erosion. So, after years of the industrialised countries of the World taking their ability to produce sufficient food to feed their citizens for granted, there is a question as to the continued dominance of these countries if they have to rely on others for their sustenance.
The recent water shortage may have been caused not by a shortage of water, but a breakdown in the water supply system. This is not to say that there are not water shortages in the future, the real dry spells of the summer are yet to come. The hose-pipe ban which has become usual over the past number of summers is very likely to escalate, and we may come to the point where when we turn the tap, nothing comes out.