Tell me about water.
May 8, 2012 10:19 AM   Subscribe

Looking for facts about water, in part because I'd like to pass them on to a conservative friend.

Educating myself in the process would also be nice. Because I want to pass them on, however, the best responses would be rock-solid in their facts while still powerful to somoene who doesn't share the same a-priori beliefs (like the idea that the environment is important in any way, or that balances should be struck between short and long term human needs, etc.).

Looking for things like:

Percentage of water used in agriculture (in the US and the world).

Is there a water shortage (US and world), and if so, what are the competing uses? (Industry, ag, residential) Is one section of consumption out of balance with the others? What are better ways to share the pie?

What are the negative effects of dams? In what situations do they outweight the positives?

What is the difference in water utilized by inefficient irrigation techniques (flooding a field) vs. modern, more efficient techniques (underground drip pipes)? Is it urgent to improve efficiency? Is it unreasonable to expect farmers to do so?

Is there an urgent water problem? Are current policies in areas like California sane? Are the demands and limitations placed on farmers reasonable? Should there be more or different demands? Should ag have a carte blanche to utilize fresh water however they see fit because they feed the world? Why not?

What disasters (dwindling underground reservoirs, contaminent buildups, etc.) have built up over the years due to human actions that are about to strike?

Charts and graphs and whatnot are great, but so would be long-form articles that are well written and researched that touch any of these things.
posted by jsturgill to Science & Nature (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
One start might be at the National Academy Engineering Challenges. Providing access to clean water is one of the main "Grand Challenges for Engineering."
posted by Comrade_robot at 10:25 AM on May 8, 2012

The Earth Observatory might be helpful. Here's a feature article on the Water Cycle.
posted by Rob Rockets at 10:33 AM on May 8, 2012

The Chinese scholar most associated with raising the water issue is Ma Jun (links there to several of his articles at ChinaDialogue, with this one probably being the best overview), and China is one of the places where the problem is being seen most acutely - he wrote a monograph on the subject back in the late 90s.
posted by Abiezer at 10:35 AM on May 8, 2012 should have some sources for you.
posted by soelo at 10:38 AM on May 8, 2012

Take a look at Singapore as a test case for some of these issues around water management and conservation. If I remember correctly they had several initiatives in water reclamation and desalinization based upon a limited amount of naturally occurring fresh water - and more so, the geopolitical, upstream control of said fresh water. There has been a lot of thinking around these programs, so I suspect you will find some good articles...
posted by NoDef at 10:42 AM on May 8, 2012

Greywater Action
posted by latkes at 10:52 AM on May 8, 2012

posted by John Cohen at 10:54 AM on May 8, 2012

Water Environment Foundation may be helpful too.
posted by COD at 11:33 AM on May 8, 2012

Here are some statistics you can use. They're from the first PDF on this page.

Around the world, 1.1 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water.

Each year, dehydration from disease claims the lives of nearly 2 million children. In the last 10 years, it has killed more children than all the people lost to armed conflict since World War II.
posted by diogenes at 11:50 AM on May 8, 2012

The Department of the Interior oversees the management and conservation of natural resources. Its website ( is full of non-partisan, just-the-facts-please information. Specifically:


The "Water Challenges" page summarizes DOI initiatives and internal organization


The "WaterSMART Program," which is helping those working in water resource planning and management tackle America's water challenges. Use this clearinghouse to find and share Web sites providing information on water conservation and sustainability. View the clearinghouse information by term, topic, by state, by river basin, or by Tribal area

Lots and lots of content here. For example, a search for "Case Studes" "Any State" returns 183 results. Should be very useful
posted by BadgerDoctor at 12:13 PM on May 8, 2012

A really interesting and readable, though perhaps dated, book on the topic is Cadillac Desert.
posted by procrastination at 1:15 PM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: One of the ways this second person is a typical conservative is that he doesn't care about the lives and problems of people in other countries (or most other people who aren't him in the US). But I do, so thanks for the international/global links.
posted by jsturgill at 5:06 PM on May 8, 2012

I like Charles Fishman's The Big Thirst, which gives a good overview of our water usage today, and gives case studies of water usage and conservation around the world (e.g. Las Vegas and India).
posted by titantoppler at 6:05 AM on May 9, 2012

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