Now it’s peak water

We’ve had peak oil, now there’s peak water.

Peak oil has generated headlines in recent years, but the real threat to our future is peak water. There are substitutes for oil, but not for water.
We drink on average four liters of water per day, in one form or another, but the food we eat each day requires 2,000 liters of water to produce. Getting enough water to drink is relatively easy, but finding enough to produce the ever-growing quantities of grain the world consumes is another matter.

Grain consumed directly supplies nearly half of our calories. That consumed indirectly as meat, milk, and eggs supplies a large part of the remainder. Today roughly 40 percent of the world grain harvest comes from irrigated land.

During the last half of the twentieth century, the world’s irrigated area expanded from close to 250 million acres in 1950 to roughly 700 million in 2000. But since then the growth in irrigation has come to a near standstill, expanding only 10 percent between 2000 and 2010.

Today some 18 countries, containing half the world’s people, are overpumping their aquifers. Among these are the big three grain producers—China, India, and the United States—and several other populous countries, including Iran, Pakistan and Mexico.

During the last couple of decades, some of these countries have overpumped to the point where aquifers are being depleted and wells are going dry. Several have passed not only peak water, but also the peak in grain production that often follows. Among the countries whose use of water has peaked and begun to decline are Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. In each of these countries peak grain has followed peak water. . .

Over pumping of aquifers is a problem but there are solutions including more efficient irrigation and water storage.

Some aquifers have been over-pumped in New Zealand but that is being addressed and peak water isn’t likely to be a problem here where we are blessed with so much water.

Our problem isn’t how much, or how little, water we have, it’s where we have it.

Water isn’t always where we need it, when we need it.

One solution to that is water harvesting – storing water when there’s more than enough to use when there’s too little.

That provides not only environmental benefits but social ones too through recreational opportunities and it’s a very good way to beat peak water.

9 Responses to Now it’s peak water

  1. blokeinauckland says:

    A key difference is water is not deconstructed through the processes you describe and is not therefore lost to the system. While I don’t subscribe to Peak Oil (or Peak Water for that matter) with oil it is converted from a complex hyrdrocarbon into many forms including water and CO2. Water remains as H2O whether part of a steak or in a kernel of corn and this is liberated through digestion and excess is excreted. I fail to see the problem. The big issue is keeping waterways clean and that is not beyond the whit of man.

    No doubt the green troll of Riverton will take a different view and proclaim doom is almost upon us.


  2. Andrei says:

    Well not really Bloke – irrigation does bring problems, but then again what technology doesn’t?

    This doesn’t mean of course that we shouldn’t irrigate au contraire irrigation was once of the first tools that mankind developed to lift us up out of the mire, to improve our lives and to develop our civilizations

    But the fate of the Sea of Aral stands as a stark warning as to what can happen if you rush in without thought of future consequences and even worse in this case is that over irrigation of the land has bought salt to the surface and poisoned the land in many areas.

    However the Aral Sea is on the mend and in time this disaster will be repaired – the earth is a resilient thing and our worst depredations are only ephemeral and the possibility of disaster is no reason to stop moving forward


  3. Gravedodger says:

    You omit ‘Peak Coal’ Hp, a serious threat to the 18th and 19th century industrialisation almost entirely reliant on Coal.
    Many truely believed the world would run out, difference was no nutters to cry wolf, no sympathetic MSM to promulgate the nonsence and no aspiring politicians to employ the fearmongering for electoral advantage.

    Well said bloke.

    The biggest problem confronting water and its supply threatened by use is the obvious question of assessing its true value in calculating the true cost of that use then applying that value using “the market” to resolve issues.

    Expecting towel heads with oil money giving value to anything will always be a forlorn hope, they think they can buy everything.
    Compare them to Israel on Water use, Arabia should just buy corn instead of using oil riches to desalinate sea water.


  4. blokeinauckland says:

    “However the Aral Sea is on the mend and in time this disaster will be repaired”

    My point exactly – the water is not lost. Just moved and it can come back. Peak Water is a nonsense concept.

    I’m the first to recommend good stewardship and the management of the Arral sea/lake is a not an exemplar of good stewardship.


  5. Mr E says:

    Don’t lower yourself to that level Bloke. Certain individuals have left this site. Let’s forget and move on.


  6. blokeinauckland says:

    Pleased to hear it – I missed the farewell.


  7. Mr E says:

    Ironically it appears you were the back breaking straw.


  8. murrayg1 says:

    I find it interesting that no comment has pulled up HP on the ignorance of math.

    Every finite extracted resource – including oil, coal, gas – if ramped into at exponentially-increasing rates, will peak. The area under the Gaussian curve represents the total resource. (You can think of it simplistically in terms of total volume, but in the case of energy, descending quality – via cherry-picking – comes into it). If you force the issue as the Gaussian wants to level off, you must be taking area from somewhere in the graph, and it has to be from the right-hand end – which means the coming drop-off will be steeper.

    There are no – repeat no – “substitutes for oil”, but let’s define ‘oil’ first. Let’s call it ‘light sweet crude’ – the best stuff. Light sweet crude has an EROEI (ENERGY RETURN ON ENERGY INVESTED) much better than other grades (stuff which needs fracking, deep-water platforms, sourness removed). That’s because to get those forms up to usable product, takes energy, which has to be subtracted from the total.

    The issue with fracking and deep-water isn’t the ‘environmentalists vs developers’ one (that’s puerile journalism), it’s the point that you don’t frack if you have better options (local surface gushers) still available. When a northern hemisphere company with northern hemisphere infrastructure and customers is down to drilling off Oamaru, then in terms of useful energy available per day (per time) we are past Peak.

    When you rely on trading goods/services for economic activity, and they come to you via work-done, which requires energy to be used, then your only saving grace is ‘efficiencies’. Efficiencies can only max at a theoretical 100%, but never get there, and follow a law of diminishing returns.

    So we see quantative easing – the growth-based fiscal system has run out of enough real underwrite to grow, so it’s inflating – more accurately, stagflating. The crash is to come.

    Storage of water is probably a valid mitigation measure given climate change, but all other variables have to be taken into account. For example, dairy farmers expect to be ‘paid’ from ‘overseas’. Is that with debt? Will it continue to be honoured? If not with debt, with what? The return from goods/services (requiring that work and that energy)? A lot of it now, seems to be borrowing against the inflated ‘valuation’ of existing real estate. Given that the RE hasn’t altered and that planetary resources continue to be drawn-down, the result can only be inflation (sorry, QE.)

    If the ability to ‘pay’ dries up, and energy continues to become contentious, at what point does exporting dairy cease to become a valid activity? What will be the land-use then? Will it need the water? (Logic tells us there will be an exodus from cities – reduced work, need for food – to the countryside, and a move to smaller holdings, with more labour input/acre).

    Wait for the yowls. Wait for the howls. Wait for the (common expression of denial) shooting/denigration of the messenger.

    But ultimately, we have proven a too-stupid species. We had the warnings, and didn’t have what it took to avoid going over the cliff – indeed we have voted in Govts (and major oppositions) advocating putting the foot on the accelerator.

    Stupid is the word.


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