If you combined all of the water in the planet's ice caps, glaciers, rivers, lakes, aquifers and oceans, it would fill a sphere 860 miles in diameter. That volume, some 366 million trillion gallons, hasn't changed in millennia, nor will it change in the foreseeable future. What will change, as the planet becomes hotter and more crowded, is where this water appears and in what stage of the hydrologic cycle. And those changes will present us with many oddly conflicting challenges.
Even as rising sea levels threaten coastal cities, for instance, reduced ice cover on Lake Erie—as winter weather starts later and ends earlier—will allow more water to evaporate, lowering the surface level of the lake by as much as six feet in the next 70 years and making shipping difficult. Already Lake Mead is dropping so quickly, as a result of increased evaporation and reduced inflow, that the Hoover Dam could quit generating electricity by 2024—a potential disaster for the 1.3 million people who rely on its power.
Climate change will make dry places drier, wet places wetter, and storms more intense. Heavy rainfall in mountainous areas will cause landslides, debris flows and flash flooding. Seasonal monsoons may start sooner and last longer, and those monster storms will increasingly reduce crop yields and sluice contaminants into waterways and soil. They'll also wreak havoc in urbanized areas, shifting soil, cracking pipes and overwhelming wastewater-treatment plants, backing up disease-causing sewage into homes, streets and waterways that provide drinking water. The Army Corps of Engineers reports that flooding around the world claims the lives of about 25,000 people and causes economic losses of as much as $60 billion annually.
How will we adapt? For thousands of years we have built levees, dams and ditches. This is the "hard" approach, and it will continue to play an important role. Today engineers are moving or elevating roadways and other crucial infrastructure away from coastlines and flood-prone rivers. They're enlarging storm drains and floodwalls, and armoring wastewater-treatment plants against rising water. In Chicago, they are excavating two of the largest catch basins the world has ever seen, which together will prevent 15 billion gallons of polluted runoff from entering waterways.
But more recently, a softer approach, one that relies more on policy and behavioral shifts than concrete and dynamite, has come to the fore. Cities are upgrading building codes to require greater structural resiliency, developing better warning systems so people can evacuate sooner, or simply buying out property owners and restricting development in bottomlands. In both the developed and the developing world, planners are adopting "ecosystem-based" responses to flooding that include restoring wetlands, planting native vegetation to buffer the worst impacts of floods, reconnecting rivers with their flood plains, and paying landowners to preserve forests as a way to protect water quantity and quality.
Communities challenged with too little water, meanwhile, are finding "new" supplies through conservation and efficiency schemes that feature better metering and smarter pricing of water, restrictions on outdoor water use, retrofitting with water-miserly appliances and fixtures, and reusing "gray water" (from showers and washing machines) to irrigate gardens. Orange County, California, is capturing sewage flow, microfiltering and purifying the watery part, and injecting it back underground to mingle with freshwater before it's drawn into taps. Los Angeles and other cities are considering similar systems.
Instead of overpumping their groundwater—a practice that has in many places significantly lowered water tables, dried up wetlands and pulled saltwater into aquifers used for drinking—scores of municipalities are augmenting their freshwater supplies by capturing rain on roofs and in swales, and private developers are replacing asphalt with permeable pavement, which funnels rainwater to underground cisterns for use in landscaping and toilets. Instead of whisking seasonal floods down concrete rivers to the sea, utilities are diverting this bounty into earthen basins, recharging aquifers they can later tap.
As the consequences of climate change become more severe, the hard approach will become increasingly tempting. China is forging ahead with a $62-billion project to pump nearly a tenth of the nation's water from its wet south to its dry north. Elsewhere, entrepreneurs are eager to tow icebergs from the Arctic to warmer climes, to build pipelines that connect the Pacific Northwest to Los Angeles, or to haul millions of gallons of freshwater from the same region to arid cities across the ocean in 230-foot-long fabric tubes connected by the world's strongest zipper.
The Army Corps of Engineers, in the 1950s, proposed what remains perhaps the most audacious transfer scheme of all. By diverting the flow of Alaskan rivers through Canada and down to the lower 48 states, the North American Water and Power Alliance would double the amount of freshwater available to farmers and growing cities in the west. The scheme fell out of political favor but was later adopted and tweaked by Lyndon LaRouche, the once-perennial presidential candidate. Legal, political, economic, social and environmental considerations aside, the plan is highly complex and, if history is any guide, would precipitate more problems than it solved. (An overview on LaRouche's website says it "signifies a change in the organization of the planet as a whole.")
LaRouche's plan is loopy, but humans have, in fact, already reorganized the planet's hydrological regimes by mainlining carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We can try to cope by moving water around, changing it from salty to fresh, or conjuring it from thin air using chemical reactions. These manipulations will become more difficult as we hit economic and physical limits. But with smart management, cooperation and planning, we can find a way to live within these limits and to share the planet's water equitably with people and with nature.
Elizabeth Royte is the author of Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It.
The Simple solution is to Get ALL JETS out of the JET STREAM!
80,000 TONS per hour of DIRTY, FILTHY, CANCEROUS, DIESEL jet exhausts is burning up and destroying the planet.
I am glad to see that Popular Science has the GUTS to take on this situation, ARE GOVERNMENT DOESN'T! Now if the Government and Congress would get their heads out of the sand, and face reality, before there is NO turning point, And I told you so, and Where is the E.P.A. we don't hear a word out of them, Are they DEAF,DUMB,& BLIND?
I won't have to go to Florida next Winter, Florida weather will be right here in VERMONT! What will it be in your State,if it isn't BURNED OR FLOODED OUT. Where is Obama or Romney, are they like the E.P.A., DEAF,DUMB & BLIND!
I suppose if all decisions are based upon 1 or 2 cycle Presidental elections and politics, I see doom and gloom for the people of the USA. What we need is to change the mindset of our politics and consider some long term projects.
What the frozen areas of the Earth do is bank fresh water and hydro electric energy. So those are the 2 things I see we will loose with global warming. Unless....
But with all Mountains and highlands come valleys of run off water. We need to plan to create more lakes and hydro electric dams. This will capture the wasted fresh water and energy of the run off water, make a cleaner enviroment, and yes create jobs too.
And for those enviromental list crying fowl from some odd perspective, we can also plant more trees, shrubs and grass lands. The benefits of this is more oxygen producing plants, which obsorb carbon fromt the atmosphere too. Large scale tree planting will also bring back rain. Yes the south east USA use to be a tropic forest 200 or more years ago and the great west plans that is cover much with desert, was much more a grass plains.
If the USA government actually made a 50 year plan other than our typical knee jerk political\business influenced decisions of 4 or 8 year plans, we can weather (whatever) enviromental changes of global warming and reducing planet recources.
We are smart enough as a society to do this; we just need to make a long term decision and DO IT!
Acknowledging that climate change is real would be a good start.
"We Entertain When It Rains"
The amount of pollution generated by aircraft is fairly tame compared to the 2.5 Billion tons annually generated by coal burning power plants. As well as the 1 Billion tons of pollution annually generated by just the vehicles on the road older than 10 years. Until we get these issues under control, eliminating every aircraft in existence would not even begin to solve the issue.
It's true high altitude jet aircraft use only about 3% of our fossil energy and the pollution they do produce is fairly clean consisting mainly of water vapor and CO2.
BUT, and it's a huge but, it's WHERE jets dump their pollution that makes them a major contributor to global warming. Surface CO2 can be recycled by green plants but CO2 in the stratosphere stays there for centuries.
Humans are, by nature, an engineering species. We will seek hard engineering solutions to the global water shortage. The only logical source for the vast amount of potable water we need now is the oceans using seawater conversion on an immense scale.
Moving existing fresh water around with canals and tunnels is exactly like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Conservation is a wonderful short-term solution but in the long run, it will leave humanity in a corner.
The sheer scale of the seawater conversion and freshwater transportation needed by the Earth's 9 Billion inhabitants will require Thorium fission power on an equally huge scale. Maybe the ITER will work which would be wonderful but sound minds won't bet humanity's future on it.
The Solution is LENR (Cold Fusion) you Block heads have ignored it for too long and now its a reality you can't ignore. M.I.T, DARPA, NASA, ECAT, Defkalion, Brillouin Energy Corp.,Jet Energy, CERN,how is it that 60 minutes will be doing a report on it and on this "PopSci" site the only mention of it is that its "dubious".
Whats up with you guys? Can't write about the most significant scientific breakthroughts mayabe of all time?
What your agenda? Maybe you can't read a chart? Can't comprehend data? Stop drinking the Kool Aid for just a minute!
Get off your computer and go out to the real world and see whats going on!
I think that if global warming becomes too great and threatens us with extinction the final solution will have to be atmosphere processors, if that's possible.
Just like in the movie Aliens, it's a great idea.
If the new salt water filters made from using graphene plays out then all the worlds seas will be just as accessible as fresh water. Maybe even more so since it filters out a lot of other crap for pennies on the dollar compared to other filtration methods. That graphene filter could literally change the way the whole world thinks of the oceans as nearly unlimited water supplies.
@gizmowiz you beat me to it. I was thinking about the graphene to. Really exciting but we will have to see. They are making alot promises about graphene. Only time with tell.
@LibertyNewspost Hey If cold fusion actually proved it self then we would be all about it. It just hasnt yet... Fact. It may show some promise eventually.
I am a supporter of the thorium fluoride reactors
@ bildan; Where do you get that 3% figure for high altitude aircraft fossil fuel energy? More like .003 or something. The vast majority of our fossil fuel energy isn't even used at all. We store it. Much of what we buy from other nations is also stored. When you say energy rather than the fuel quantity it becomes something very different. While an electrical wire is coated with petrochemically based material, that manufactured material also represents stored energy. We probably use more fossil fuel energy in manufacturing than we do in transport of all kinds. And that is where we need to be demanding action. We spend ever-increasing amounts of money to keep our manufacturers from recycling. We demand that ethanol still be produced and used even knowing how insane and corrupt the scam is; and how little it's worth is, even in an ideal scenario that could never exist. We protect those who waste the most at all costs to try to put the burden on the populace, who in fact waste the least. Our insanity knows no bounds.
"so people can evacuate sooner" thats what exlax is for!! cities can evacuate sooner
popsci readers have some amazing ideas. To bad we're all to smart to run for office haha. Personally, I think we need to find a way to make reusable resouces profitable, then I'm sure we can get the donkeys and elephants to jump ship!!! Unfortunatley, my opinion goes no further then the statement itself.