This blog is part of a series of blogs from ACE Recycling In recognition of the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day. This series focuses on changes you can make to decrease your carbon footprint, lessen your water impact and help the environment. These changes are intended to be user-friendly. Being environmentally responsible has the added benefit of being healthier and more cost-effective. The goal is to create fun and engaging activities for the whole family. Simple changes to our everyday lives have big impacts on our health and the health of our planet. #EarthDay2020 #EarthRise2020 #ActsofGreen #ACERecyclingBlog #SmallChangesBigImpacts
Water Scarcity and the need for Conservation
Water is perhaps one of the essential components of life. It provides humans, wildlife, and plants the ability to prosper. In essence, it provides a balance between resources and those who use said resources. It is vital for many reasons. First, plants use water to make food through the process of photosynthesis. Second, it holds the aquatic life we consume (fish and seaweed). Lastly, all life requires it to maintain the many chemical processes that sustain us. It is so essential that a human can only 2-3 days without fresh water. The earth’s ability to survive is heavily dependent on water availability, without it, there can be no plants, there can be no wildlife, and there can be no human life.
The Blue Planet
Water makes up a large portion of the earth’s surface (71%). However, a majority is not readily available for drinking or commercial purposes.
Of the 71% of Earth’s Water:
- 96% is in oceans (not readily usable for agriculture or drinking)
- 3% is freshwater
- 2.5% of fresh water is unavailable (trapped in glaciers, ice caps)
- ~ 0.5% of fresh water is available
- 0.62% of available freshwater is in groundwater
- 0.009% of available freshwater is in lakes
- 0.0001 % available freshwater is in rivers
When put into perspective, the available water appropriate for agriculture and drinking (called potable) is only a small fraction of the earth’s total water. In the face of climate change and a growing population, water availability has become one of the most significant issues facing many communities around the world. Such impacts of climate change include increased drought (decreases availability) and increased flooding (decreases clean water availability due to contamination).
Colorado River Compact
Here in the U.S., water availability has been an issue in Western states such as California, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico, all of which share the Colorado River as one of their primary sources of water. As a result, some of these areas have experienced drought and increased costs. California, for instance, suffered a drought lasting from December 27, 2011- March 5, 2019, a total of eight years. In the eight years, “the most intense period of drought occurred the week of July 29, 2014, where D4 [the most severe type of drought] affected 58.41% of California land” (Drought in California, 2019).
The struggle with access to the Colorado River’s water has not only caused economic and social issues within these states but has significantly impacted a more vulnerable community: Native Americans. Although the original Colorado River Compact recognized the Native American’s water rights, nothing was “on the books” until a 1963 Supreme Court decision. This decision quantified federal reserved rights of the five Native American reservations along the lower Colorado River. The Native American Reservations included in the 1963 Supreme Court (Arizona v. California) were the Chemehuevi, Cocopah, Colorado River, Fort Mohave and Quechan (Fort Yuma). However, this Supreme Court decision did not completely remedy the many issues on water availability that are still apparent in Native American communities/reservations. The reason there was no remedy is because this is STILL going through the courts.
Water as a Right
Seeing the impact of climate change on water availability in real-time poses the need and urgency to tackle issues of conservation. Conservation is crucial to ensuring water availability for communities in need around the world (such as the many Native American communities/reservation in the U.S. mentioned above). In 2019, the United Nations (UN) launched “Leaving no one behind” as a part of their 2019 World Water Development Report. This initiative obliges countries to work towards universal access to everyone, without discrimination. It also prioritizes those most sensitive to lack of availability and vulnerable to resource scarcity. As previously mentioned by the UN in previous years, access and sanitation are considered human rights. The UN identifies different components of access and sanitation as a human right:
- Availability of water and sanitation
- Physical accessibility of water and sanitation
- Quality and safety
- Acceptability (by societal norms or culture of different areas)
Using the framework already outlined by the UN, these components become part of conversations about conservation. These conservations can help improve the well-being of vulnerable communities here in the U.S. This can be a step forward into tackling the global issue of water scarcity and availability.
As we come closer to Earth Day (04/22/2020), let us take a moment and celebrate a common resource needed and shared by all on March 22, 2020 which marks World Water Day.
Our next segment will go over conservation, specifically on what’s been done in the U.S., and what can be done.
This article was written by Carla Salas who has been working with ACE Recycling in conjunction with her schooling. Carla is a current college student attending her last year at Grand Canyon University. She is majoring in Environmental Science with a focus in Chemistry, along with a minor in Pre-Law. Her future goals include getting a Master’s/P.h.D in Environmental Science along with going to law school to eventually become an environmental lawyer to fight and advocate for environmental justice for vulnerable communities. As a member of the Latinx and Hispanic culture and as a bilingual Chicana/Mexican-American community member, she is passionate about providing equal access to environmental education and justice through her bilingual skills. The proverb below summarizes her passion for environmental justice and her belief for all communities to be able to access the resources needed for a healthy life. “La aqua y la comida es sagrada y nunca se desprecia” “Both water and food are sacred and should never be despised (disdained)”
Check out our series on Carbon!