EPQHow best can we combat rising levels of water scarcity caused by an increasing global population?Sam Winiarski2017/2018INTRODUCTION. LIFE ON THE BLUE PLANET.Planet Earth. Water covers over 70% of the Earth’s surface and is such a fundamental attribute of Earth that we have named our home the “Blue Planet”. It is found everywhere, from volatile geysers to the polar ice caps, and everywhere it is found, life can be found as well. Water provides the vital environment for life to flourish. This is due to two key features; its ability to act as a solvent for almost any chemical, and the small temperature variation that it needs to change state. It can act as a solvent due to its polarity. Water is made up of two hydrogen atoms, and one oxygen atom. The molecule has a positive region where the hydrogen is clustered and a negative region where the oxygen resides. This means that the positively charged region will attract the negative ions of a compound while the negative region of the water attracts the positive ions in a compound. This creates the perfect condition for a substance to dissolve, and it is this property that allows water to be an essential medium to transport vital chemicals in and out of cells.Secondly, water can appear as a solid, liquid or gas, all at temperatures available on Earth. This is vital in creating the necessary environment to sustain life. NASA’s motto in their search for extra-terrestrial life has been “follow the water”, as wherever it can be found, life is close behind.WATER ON EARTH.However, on Earth, over 99% percent of the water is unusable – either too saline as seawater or frozen in glaciers. Our largest sources of freshwater are groundwater and water stored in rivers and lakes. At a stored volume of 2 million cubic miles of water, groundwater is the largest source of freshwater on Earth, followed by 30 thousand cubic miles stored in rivers and lakes worldwide.WATER SUSTAINABILITY.Water sustainability is defined as the continual supply of clean water for human uses and for the use of all other living organisms. This does not imply an infinite supply of water for humanity, just a sufficient quantity for the foreseeable future of the planet. As water is a renewable resource, sustaining it should be easy, right? H2O does not enter or leave our atmosphere and, as a result, the earth has held the same amount of water for eons. However, the ratio of water in different states (solid, liquid or gas) at a given location is subject to change. This is because of the Earth’s sun-driven hydrological cycle that causes water to be in constant flux from evaporation to precipitation. Water availability at an area can be restricted by natural factors such as geographical location and by human factors such as governmental boundaries and lack of infrastructure.POPULATION GROWTH.The Earth’s population reached 7.3 billion in July 2015. This is an increase of two billion since 1990, and one billion since 2003. In the UN’s 2015 revision of their World Population Prospects document, the global population will increase by 83 million in 2016 alone. They state that “continued population growth until 2050 is almost inevitable” with their projection reaching 8.5 billion in 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100.CAUSES OF WATER SCARCITY.ENERGY CHOICES.Water is crucial to power production across the globe. As populations rise across the globe, more electricity is needed to satisfy growing demands from new economic powerhouses such as Brazil and India – countries with massive workforces and an insatiable hunger for industrial growth.All major methods of generating electricity utilise water in one way or another, most commonly by generating heat that turns water into steam, using it to power a generator. Energy and water have a very simple relationship: you cannot have water without large energy inputs, and you cannot have energy without large water impacts. Electricity generation is the largest consumer of water after agriculture but much of the cooling water from power plants can be returned to the environment or reused with much less lost through evaporation than irrigation. However, if the returned water is too acidic or hot, it could damage animals or ecosystems downstream. Developing Fossil FuelsThe three fossil fuels are coal, oil and natural gas. The development of new sources of fossil fuels can seriously impact the quality of nearby surface or groundwater, and some key methods use exceptionally large quantities of water to extract the fuels. There are two main types of methods to extract oil: conventional and unconventional. There is some dispute as to what the definition of “conventional energy” really is. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) in 2013, “Conventional oil is a category that includes crude oil – and natural gas and its condensates.” However, the US Department of Energy states that “unconventional oils have yet to be strictly defined.” For the purposes of this essay, we will use conventional extraction as the use of traditional oil wells and processing. It has been used since the 19th century, and is the go to method for oil that is flowing already. This is because there is no extra pressure needed to bring the oil to the surface. Conventional drilling and processing methods use about 8 – 20 gal/MMBTU (gallons of water per million BTU of energy produced. The BTU is the British Thermal Unit which is used to measure fuel and is equivalent to about 1055 joules). This may seem like a lot, but it pales in comparison to unconventional development methods. The IEA states that “unconventional oil includes extra-heavy oil, natural bitumen (oil sands), kerogen oil, liquids and gases arising from chemical processing of natural gas (GTL), coal-to-liquids (CTL) and additives.” The use of unconventional development methods has flourished in recent years due to the increasing scarcity of traditional oil reserves. Unconventional methods help companies get access to oil where previously they would not be able to. These methods are usually more costly than conventional drilling, but they are turning a larger and larger profit as oil rises in value due to its global scarcity. The rising value of oil causes companies to become more reckless and less environmentally conscious, as increased profits propel them past ethical boundaries that they normally would have stopped at. For example, in 2003, the irresponsible blowout of BP’s deep ocean Macondo Well in the gulf of Mexico was a water-quality catastrophe. Their reckless pursuit of oil caused approximately 200 million gallons of oil to spill into a sustainable fishery (an area “whose fishing practices can be maintained indefinitely without reducing the targeted species’ ability to maintain its population at healthy levels, and without adversely impacting on other species within the ecosystem”) and damaged a significant tourism industry. Oil sands, an unconventional energy method involves using steam to liberate bitumen from the sand (a viscous combination of clay, sand, water and bitumen.)The unconventional development of oil sands uses 27 – 68 gal/MMBTU according to Chesapeake Energy. However, the liberation process results in pools that are contaminated with petrol scarring the landscape. These are harmful to local wildlife, but can also heavily contaminate the nearby groundwater. For example, at the Athabasca River in Alberta, Canada, a federal study proved that contaminants from oil sands tailing ponds (the name given to the system of dams and dykes that is used to ‘wall off’ oil sands) are leaching into the groundwater and into the Athabasca River.Hydraulic fracturing (Fracking) is a popular method that involves drillers injecting a highly pressurized water, sand and chemical solution into shale formations to fracture the rock, allowing natural gas to flow freely to the surface. As you can imagine, this method uses a lot of water: 3-7 million gallons of water per well. Furthermore, fracking produces highly toxic ‘flowback’ – the returning water solution with extremely high salt concentrations and traces of contaminants like toxic metals and dionuclides. While some companies either inject the water deep below the local aquifer or reuse it for other fracking wells, if it is left on the surface, it can do irreparable damage to the environment. To allow this water solution to rejoin the water basin for a specific area would be a major breach of environmental standards.