Have We Really Reached “Peak Water”?
One of my New Year’s blogolutions was to clear out my to-blog folder, and bring closure to my unfinished drafts by simply posting them as-is. This is one of those drafts. Disorganized paragraphs, unfinished sentences, and general incoherence enhance the natural character and beauty of a half-written blog post and should not be considered flaws or defects.
Draft date: November 19, 2008
I stopped writing this post because I convinced myself that I was probably maybe sorta wrong, and not just because we are mining the Ogallala… but now I can’t remember my own argument. So I’ll punt to discussion. What do you think? Is “Peak Water” a useful concept?
My household’s snark analysts and sarcasm experts are beginning to worry about Peak Peak Patience. While I am still able to be somewhat patient with people who use “Peak X” as a hip and attention-grabbing way to indicate that Commodity X is in short supply, and I will be able to refrain from throwing my shoe at the radio for the foreseeable future (albeit at increasing cost to my sanity), the rate at which I produce new amounts of patience for this trendy buzzphrase may have already entered a steady and irrevocable decline. If Peak Peak Patience hasn’t already happened, it will happen soon; I hope that global media leaders are prepared for the shock.
“Peak Oil” (and by extension “Peak Water”, or that eye-rolling coinage “Peak Coffee” that was making the rounds a few months ago) is not just a fancy way of saying “oops, there’s a shortage”. It’s a technical term. It refers to a feature of oil production that results from the following:
- There’s only so much oil in the ground. When we use it all up, it will be gone.
- We will use oil up just as fast as we can possibly find it and build new pipelines for it.
- We find oil faster when there is a lot of it in the ground; when it’s almost gone, locating and extracting those last few dregs will be much more difficult and time-consuming.
If you write that down in math, you can see the “peak” in “peak oil”.
Technically, a Hubbert peak could apply to water resources. Even though water is a renewable resource, we are perfectly capable of using it up faster than fresh drinking water can fall from the sky. Aquifers in arid places fill up drip by drip, a process which takes thousands to hundreds of thousands of years; since we only plan things 50-100 years in advance at best, we might as well consider these ancient aquifers to be a finite resource.
If we mine the water from our aquifers as fast as we can – faster than it can be replaced – then we will eventually reach “Peak Water” and be in big trouble.
We are in big trouble, but it has nothing to do with a Hubbert curve.
Trouble in the Southwest U.S.
The actual extraction of ground water from most basins in Southern California is limited to the safe yield. This is because everyone has already sued everyone else. The problem is that population/need keeps growing and sustainable yield does not.
Trouble in Zimbabwe
Pollution of shallow aquifers.