The Ultimate Resource


Water is the ultimate resource.

It is essential for survival and underlies every human endeavor.

If you live in a hydrologically blessed area like the southeastern United States you may be curious as to why anybody would worry about water.

Most people in the developed world hold similar sentiments.

This is because our access to clean potable water is unprecedented.

But much of the world isn’t this fortunate. The Middle East, India, Pakistan, China, and the Southwestern United States are becoming increasingly water stressed.

Agriculture, industry, weather and shifting populations create hydrological quagmires whose outcomes often include misery, death, and ecological destruction. Such outcomes are often avoidable and can always be mitigated.

Understanding water will help us make better decisions regarding an indispensable resource.

It Falls From The Sky

Water is deceptively bountiful.

There are 1.1 quadrillion acre feet of water on the earth. Filling everything from oceans, to lakes, to rivers, and the atmosphere.

An acre foot is a foot of water covering an acre. An American football field is roughly an acre. Imagine 1.1 quadrillion football fields all covered with a foot of water.

Or better yet don’t. The human mind isn’t meant to deal with such astronomical numbers.

When things get to be that big that’s precisely what we say about them: Wow! That’s big. it’s a lot, etc.

This sort of necessary ambiguity often leads us to be flippant about the way we use and view resources.

Well, what of it? It falls from the sky!

The thing is that 1.1 quadrillion is mostly salt water. 97% of it is saline. Much of the remaining 3% is solidified in glaciers or if it’s liquid locked underground in aquifers.

An aquifer is an area of permeable rock that contains water. The ease with which we can get to that water and the quality of that water can vary a lot.

The next biggest repositories of fresh water are lakes and river.

There are around 71 billion acre feet in the lakes and about 1.6 billion acre feet at any given time in  rivers.

Aquifers, lakes, and rivers all effect each others water levels and often share contaminants. This highlights a notable characteristic of the resource. Namely, transience. Water doesn’t stay in one place.

All these things add up to a sobering picture. Our most vital resource is finite. It is a resource whose renewability does not guarantee accessibility.

Just because it falls from the sky doesn’t mean it will end up in your well.

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