Water resources

From Academic Kids

Water Resources are sources of water that are useful or potentially useful to humans. These uses include agricultural, industrial, household, recreational and environmental activities. Virtually all of these human uses require fresh water. Only 3% of water on the Earth is fresh water, and over two thirds of this is frozen in glaciers and polar ice caps. Water demand already exceeds supply in many parts of the world, and many more areas are expected to experience this imbalance in the near future. The framework for allocating water resources to water users (where such a framework exists) is known as water rights.

Contents

Sources of Fresh Water

Surface Water

Surface water is water in a river, lake or fresh water wetland. Surface water is naturally replenished by precipitation and naturally lost through discharge to the oceans, evaporation and sub-surface seepage.

Although the sole natural input to any surface water system is precipitation within its watershed, the total quantity of water in that system at any given time is also dependent on many other factors. These factors include storage capacity in lakes, wetlands and artificial reservoirs, the permeability of the soil beneath these storage bodies, the runoff characteristics of the land in the watershed, the timing of the precipitation and local evaporation rates. All of these factors also affect the proportions of water lost through discharge to the oceans, evaporation and sub-surface seepage.

Human activities can have a large impact on these factors. Humans often increase storage capacity by constructing reservoirs and decrease it by draining wetlands. Humans often increase runoff quantities and velocities by paving areas and channelizing stream flow.

The total quantity of water available at any given time is an important consideration. Some human water users have an intermittent need for water. For example, many farms require large quantities of water in the spring, and no water at all in the winter. To supply such a farm with water, a surface water system may require a large storage capacity to collect water throughout the year and release it in a short period of time. Other users have a continuous need for water, such as a power plant that requires water for cooling. To supply such a power plant with water, a surface water system only needs enough storage capacity to fill in when average stream flow is below the power plant's need.

Nevertheless, over the long term the average rate of precipitation within an watershed is the upper bound for average consumption of natural surface water from that watershed.

Natural surface water can be augmented by importing surface water from another watershed through a canal or pipeline. It can also be artificially augmented from any of the other sources listed here, however in practice the quantities are negligible. Humans can also cause surface water to be "lost" (i.e. become unusable) through pollution.

Sub-Surface Water

Sub-Surface water, or groundwater, is fresh water located in the pore space of soil and rocks. Sometimes it is useful to make a distinction between sub-surface water that is closely associated with surface water and deep sub-surface water in an aquifer (sometimes called "fossil water").

Sub-surface water can be thought of in the same terms as surface water: inputs, outputs and storage. The critical difference is that for sub-surface water, storage is generally much larger compared to inputs than it is for surface water. This difference makes it easy for humans to use sub-surface water unsustainably for a long time without severe consequences. Nevertheless, over the long term the average rate of seepage above a sub-surface water source is the upper bound for average consumption of water from that source.

The natural input to sub-surface water is seepage from surface water. The natural outputs from sub-surface water are springs and seepage to the oceans.

If the surface water source is also subject to substantial evaporation, a sub-surface water source may become saline. This situation can occur naturally under endorheic bodies of water, or artificially under irrigated farmland. In coastal areas, human use of a sub-surface water source may cause the direction of seepage to ocean to reverse which can also cause salinization. Humans can also cause sub-surface water to be "lost" (i.e. become unusable) through pollution. Humans can increase the input to a sub-surface water source by building reservoirs or detention ponds.

Desalinization

Desalinization is an artificial process by which saline water (generally ocean water) is converted to fresh water. The most common desalinization processes are distillation and reverse osmosis. Desalinization is currently very expensive, and is only practical to generate water for household use in arid areas.

Frozen Water

Several schemes have been proposed to make use of icebergs as a water source, however to date this has only been done for novelty purposes. Glacier runoff is considered to be surface water.

Uses of Fresh Water

Uses of fresh water can be categorized as consumptive and non-consumptive (sometimes called "renewable"). A use of water is consumptive if that water is not immediately available for another use. Losses to sub-surface seepage and evaporation are considered consumptive, as is water incorporated into a product (such as farm produce). Water that can be treated and returned as surface water, such as sewage, is generally considered non-consumptive.

Agricultural

It is estimated that 70% of world-wide water use is for irrigation. In some areas of the world irrigation is necessary to grow any crop at all, in other areas it permits more profitable crops to be grown or enhances crop yield. Various irrigation methods involve different trade-offs between crop yield, water consumption and capital cost of equipment and structures. Another trade-off that is often insufficiently considered is salinization of sub-surface water.

Aquaculture is a small but growing agricultural use of water. Freshwater commercial fisheries may also be considered as agricultural uses of water, but have generally been assigned a lower priority than irrigation (see Aral Sea and Pyramid Lake).

Most agricultural water use is consumptive, especially in arid areas.

Industrial

It is estimated that 15% of world-wide water use is industrial. Major industrial users include power plants which use water for cooling or as a power source (i.e. hydroelectric plants), ore and oil refineries which use water in chemical processes, and manufacturing plants which use water as a solvent.

The portion of industrial water usage that is consumptive varies widely, but as a whole is lower than agricultural use.

Household

It is estimated that 15% of world-wide water use is for household purposes. These include drinking water, cleaning water, sewage and landscape irrigation.

Most household water is treated and returned to surface water systems, with the exception of water used for irrigation. Household water use is therefore less consumptive than agricultural or industrial uses.

Recreation

Recreational water use is a very small but growing percentage of total water use. Recreational water use is mostly tied to reservoirs. If a reservoir is kept fuller than it would otherwise be for recreation, then the water retained could be categorized as recreational usage. Release of water from a few reservoirs is also timed to enhance whitewater boating, which also could be considered a recreational usage.

Recreational usage is non-consumptive. However it may reduce the availability of water for other users at specific times and places. For example, water retained in a reservoir to allow boating in the late summer is not available to farmers during the spring planting season. Water released for whitewater rafting may not be available for hydroelectric generation during the time of peak electrical demand.

Environmental

Explicit environmental water use is also a very small but growing percentage of total water use. Environmental water usage includes artificial wetlands, artificial lakes intended to create wildlife habitat, fish ladders around dams and water releases from reservoirs timed to help fish spawn.

Like recreational usage, environmental usage is non-consumptive but may reduce the availability of water for other users at specific times and places. For example, water release from a reservoir to help fish spawn may not be available to farms upstream.

See also

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