The Untold Water Issue

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Mad Max

While reading the other day, – as I so often do – I ran into an article that at first I thought “this can’t be right.” In the fashion that I’ve been known for, I set out to research what was said in the article.

Much to my amazement, it was right, which prompted me to think about the movie Mad Max; Mad Max tells the story of a now ex highway patrolman cruising the squalid back roads that have become the breeding ground of criminals foraging for gasoline (Guzzolene) and scraps. After the motorcycle gang kills his wife and child, Max sets out across the barren wastelands in search of revenge and what has ultimately led me to write this post.

It made think “could it be possible to have a Mad Max scenario?  Only instead of gasoline, it would be for water.”

In the short of it, this planet has a shortage of water. Sure there are vast oceans that would lead us to believe that we have enough water to sustain life forever, however, that appears to not be the case. Not only is it not feasible to drain the oceans to feed the now eight-billion people that inhabit the earth, it would not be feasible in a financial aspect.

So lets kick this off by taking a look at some of the largest natural water supplies around the world, their histories and where they are now.

We’ll start with China.

Yangtze River

The Yangtze or Ch’ang Chiang, (longest river) the longest river in both China and Asia and third longest river in the world, with a length of 3,915 miles (6,300 km). Its basin, extending for some 2,000 miles (3,200 km) from west to east and for more than 600 miles (1,000 km) from north to south, drains an area of 698,265 square miles (1,808,500 square km). From its source on the Plateau of Tibet to its mouth on the East China Sea, the river traverses or serves as the border between 10 provinces or regions. More than three-fourths of the river’s course runs through mountains. The Yangtze has eight principal tributaries. On its left bank, from source to mouth, these are the Yalung, Min, Jialing, and Han rivers; those on the right bank include the Wu, Yuan, Xiang, and Gan rivers.

To get an idea of just how bad the situation in China has become, lets take a look at what the river used to look like.

Yangtze River

In comparison to what it looks like now.

Yangtze River

With China’s record growth came record problems compounded by record breaking heat waves causing record breaking drought.

While China has been able to hide this catastrophic water problem for many years, it was just a matter of time before enough media attention would be placed on it for the rest of the world to understand just how dire the situation has become.

With China’s thirst for becoming the most powerful nation on earth, many of the issues that have plagued the country and the people living there have been largely swept under the carpet and as we have seen so many times before, anyone that dares to speak of it, is made to magically disappear.

With the Chinese Communist Party so bent on production and exports of goods to embolden them with great GDP numbers, they have conveniently forgotten – or just kept it quite – the fact that they are using Ten-Billion barrels of water per day.

Quickly using a calculator, it easy to see that the water usage is staggering. Assuming these barrels of water are 55 gallons (208 liters) each, that would add up to the astronomical number of five-hundred-thousand, fifty billion gallons (2,081,976,481,200 liters (over two trillion liters)) per day.

This crisis has become so exponential that it is estimated that in Chong Ching over 350 thousand people are dying due to water shortage. Crops are pretty much all but dried-up, power generation is also a major issue as most of China’s power generation is hydroelectric.

So what does this mean? It means that through decades of land and water abuse, the ground water is not usable for anything, much less crops. It means that many factories – including Toyota – have all been shut down as the power is not stable. As well, China is also the largest producer of Aluminum, Ferrosilicon, Lead, Manganese, Magnesium, Zinc, and a whole host-load of other rare earth materials, it begins to draw a picture of what it means for the rest of the world’s manufacturing. It only takes a minute to think about what this means if China was to fall.

But….China is not the only one. There are other countries are in the same situation.

In the United States, the state of California, and more notable, Los Angeles county. At 4,083 square miles (10,570 km2), at an estimated population of 9,861,224 residents (2022). Los Angeles has had a water crisis brewing since the late 1970’s, with water rationing throughout the 80’s, 90’s and that continues to this day. With the primary water supply coming from the Colorado River.

The Colorado River is also responsible for feeding many other areas, states along the way.

In the city that never sleeps (Las Vegas), enterprising engineers have been able to conserve water by replacing lawns with rock gardens and many other mandates. With continued and careful planning, Las Vegas has been able to keep its county from a water crisis, despite the fact that Las Vegas is literally out in the middle of a barren desert.

So where do we go from here? The logical answer would be to find some big drafting tables, where smart engineers would be allowed to open/freely think and present solutions that would not be scoffed at or discarded by the world’s governments.

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