Cry me a river: how climate changes affect our access to water
In Germany, April is usually one of the wettest months. This year, the country only received 5% of its usual rainfall, and the river Rhine, which works as the most important trade route in Germany, is on the verge of drying out.
Two years ago, a similar drought period completely disrupted the passage of industrial ships. The Rhine runs through some of Europe’s most important industrial zones, and naturally, disruption had a direct impact on factories and companies as goods and resources were waiting in line. Businesses were forced to invest in other transportation means and prepare for similar situations in the future.
Besides transportation, the Rhine supplies about half of the 60 million people living in the Rhine watershed. Also, cities across the borders to France and the Netherlands are too supplied with water from the river.
Global warming affects our access to water
The water in the river arrives as rainfall, from the adjacent water streams, and as ice water from the nearby glaciers. Due to global warming, there is not much ice water left to fill the river, and with the current speed, future scenarios look grim. And what will such low water levels mean to the supply of drinking water for all the affected people?
Changes in water is usually an early warning that something is off. Either by drought as described above, or by monster rain that makes sewers overflow and lead to massive pollution at the expense of both people and Nature. During Brazil’s urgent water crisis a few years back, which was caused by periods of severe drought and inadequate water infrastructure, water had to be transported on much longer distances to secure enough drinking water for the many people. At AVK, we assisted with gate valves for the upgrade projects . While it is possible, as in Brazil, to adapt to climate changes and their consequences, we still need to look at why they happen, and to consider water’s role in the emissions equation; it is quite a role, actually, but does it really have to be that way?
Proper water management fights climate change
Water and wastewater handling are highly energy-consumptive processes, taking up 30-50% of an average municipality’s energy bill. Particularly regarding wastewater, it sounds like a lot for getting rid of a byproduct, really.
But what if the “waste” is no longer considered waste? It is not even a question anymore; we have effective ways of turning the complete water circle into an energy-neutral constellation, saving precious energy and lowering our unnecessary carbon emissions. And that’s only considering the benefits for nature, whereas there are plenty for water utilities as well.
After all, the best energy is the energy that is never used. In short, water does not need to be an issue. It can be part of the solution.
And how about the quality of the scarce drops available in, for example, the Rhine area?
Systematic misuse of natural resources, and possibilities wasted
50 years ago, the Rhine was known as the “sewer of Europe”, as it was regularly subject to untreated discharge and chemical spills. Many initiatives have followed since then, but much work still waits ahead. According to RIWA, who represents the interests of drinking water companies using the river as a source, it gets more and more difficult to remove the water’s unwanted substances, and to keep an acceptable water quality for the many consumers that depend on fresh supply.
Without knowing the numbers for untreated discharge in Germany, it is safe to say that we’re all – unceasingly, and on a daily basis – unnecessarily contaminating our nature and wasting great opportunities in the same move. On a global scale, only about 20% of all human-induced wastewater is treated before it’s handed back to nature. This means that around 80% of the water we discharge every day potentially contain pesticides, pharmaceuticals, unused medicines, chemical waste or other substances messing with natural processes and cycles.
While we now face some of the realities following too little progress, we need to rethink the way we handle water in our cities and communities. We already have solid, well-proven technologies for sustainable water and wastewater management at hand, so all we need to do is to focus our efforts on putting them into play.
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