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Sustainable Water

Sustainable Water

People these days often believe that to solve a problem, you have to throw money at it. And the bigger the problem, the more money one must throw! However, massive high-budget extravagant engineering works are not always the answer. In fact, the modern world is so caught up in the tornado of technology that we often forget the ingenuity of tradition. Our ancestors made do with the local materials they had access to - they had too! Sustainable solutions are solutions that you can count on. They do not rely on big banks and supercomputers. Instead, through education and unified effort, there are ways to ensure there will be water for everyone. Both today and tomorrow.

Sustainable water definition

Let's offer sustainable water a solid definition from which we can build understanding. We can break it down into two parts.

Sustainability is the practice of providing enough of something to meet the needs of people today whilst impacting the supply of something to future generations as little as possible.

Everyone knows what water is - we are mostly made of it! - however, the 'water' in question is the supply of water to people all around the world so that they can drink, wash and essentially maintain a good quality of life.

Put the two together, and we get a water supply that supplies everyone who needs it today and everyone who might need it in the future - sustainable water!

Sustainable water supply system

As the population increases, more people around the world need water for drinking, washing, preparing food and basic everyday activities. It also means that more food needs to be farmed, which also uses a lot of water for irrigation.

Irrigation is the controlled use of water for farming.

In fact, irrigation uses 70% of the world's freshwater resources1, which doesn't leave much left over for washing, eating and drinking - which you could say is very irrigating for people... never mind.

Sustainable Water Ditch irrigation system StudySmarterFig. 1 - Ditch irrigation for peanut crop in India.

Another reason the demand for water is increasing is economic development. As countries become wealthier and individuals become wealthier, the standard of living increases. People can afford showers, flushing toilets, dishwashers and all sorts of household appliances which use water.

Energy production is another big factor - in fact, 15% of all water withdrawn globally is used to produce energy.2 This is another outcome of economic development because people can now afford luxuries such as central heating, which increases the energy demand and, therefore, the water demand.

So in times like these, where water demand is high - and getting higher - it is more important than ever to create a sustainable water supply system. But what does this involve?

It involves:

  • Ensuring that water is balanced between water used and water consumed.
  • Making sure our water sources do not become polluted
  • Storing water for drier periods
  • manage the water that falls effectively

Let's take a look a bit closer at some strategies we can use to achieve sustainable water.

Sustainable water solutions

A key philosophy behind sustainable water solutions is to use less and reuse more. There are lots of ways to do this - here are two of them!

Water Conservation

Conservation means wasting as little as possible. This technique requires people to be creative and innovative in making sure we use as little water as possible in life. For example:

  • Fixing leaks in pipes and reservoirs
  • Installing dual flush toilets
  • Using energy-efficient appliances
  • Fitting homes with water meters so people know how much water they are using.
  • Educating people to take shorter showers.

Recycling 'Grey' Water

Grey water is a type of recycled water. It is usually reused immediately instead of being treated (cleaned) like most water. It is mostly made up of water that is relatively clean, such as water from washing machines or sinks.

Because it is relatively clean, it can be immediately reused for certain tasks, such as irrigation, flushing toilets and cleaning cars.

This technique reduces energy use as less water is needed to be treated, so there is a real benefit to grey water - just make sure you don't drink it!

Sustainable water management strategies

Imagine a tightrope walker at the circus. Water management is a balancing act, too, only with much more severe consequences. There are lots of effective ways of managing groundwater.

Groundwater is water beneath Earth's surface, between soil and in the fractures of rock formations.

For the groundwater to accumulate beneath the earth's surface, it needs to penetrate, or pass through, this surface. For this to happen, the surface rock needs to be permeable.

Permeable rock is material that water can pass through. This occurs because of things called pores within the rock, which are small holes through which water can pass.

The amount of groundwater being extracted can be monitored to ensure it is not being extracted quicker than it is being replaced. Laws can and have, been passed to prevent too much from being extracted.

To prevent the pollution of groundwater, farmers can be encouraged to use fewer pesticides and artificial fertilisers. Often this encouragement can be quite persuasive, coming in the form of fines to farmers.

When different countries share the same groundwater source, international agreements are made to ensure that each country does not take too much water and leave the other without enough to supply their population. This can often lead to conflict between countries. To learn a bit more about this, you could take a look at our explanation on water insecurity.

Sustainable water use examples

It is always useful to have a real-life example up your sleeve when it gets to exam time - here's one on us!

Sand Dams in Kenya

Kenya is a LIC, or low-income country, in an arid area (very hot and dry). Naturally, this means that their rural communities struggle to store and hold water because of evaporation. However, some people in Kenya have built sand dams, which now give them water access all year round. So how does it work?

  1. A low dam ( about a meter high) is built across the river During the rainy season, coarse material is caught behind the dam
  2. Water gets trapped between sand particles (which make up a lot of the material that is built up behind the dam)
  3. The sand prevents the water from evaporating in the dry season
  4. When the river starts to dry up. the water can be extracted from the dam by digging a well.
  5. These sand dams are cheap to build and use local materials. Therefore, they are a great example of a sustainable water supply.

Sustainable Water Sand dam StudySmarterFig. 2 - Sand dam

We have an explanation of a case study on sand dams called 'Bottom-Up African Sand Dam Project', check it out!


Sustainable Water - Key takeaways

  • Sustainable water management is ensuring that there is enough water to meet everyone's current needs whilst ensuring that future generations can meet their water needs.
  • Sustainable water supplies often use local materials and are often cheap to install
  • Water can be conserved and managed, which is a sustainable approach.
  • Groundwater can also be managed in order to ensure there is a balance in the extraction of water.

References

  1. Tariq Khokhar. Chart: Globally, 70% of Freshwater is Used for Agriculture. World Bank Blogs. 22 March 2017.
  2. Fricko, O., Parkinson, S.C., Johnson, N., Strubegger, M., van Vliet, M.T.H. and Riahi, K. Energy sector water use implications of a 2 °C climate policy. Environmental Research Letters, Volume 11, Number 3. 4 March 2016.
  3. Fig. 1 - Ditch irrigation for peanut crop in India (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Peanuts_ditch_irrigation_inid_india.jpg) by Seratobikiba (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Special:Contributions/Seratobikiba) is licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
  4. Fig. 2 - Sand dam (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sand_sinks.jpg) by Iangrahamneal (https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=User:Iangrahamneal&action=edit&redlink=1) is licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)

Frequently Asked Questions about Sustainable Water

Sustainable development strategies are often relatively cheap and can be done locally. This is key to the sustainable development of water resources, as it means they can be implemented in a wide variety of places.

Sustainable water management is ensuring that there is enough water to meet everyone's current needs whilst ensuring that future generations can meet their water needs.

An example of water development is drip irrigation, which is farming plants in a way that uses as little water as possible.

Water conservation, groundwater management and recycling 'grey' water are some different sustainable water practices.

A sustainable water supply is a water supply that meets the current demands for water, without preventing future generations from meeting their water needs.

Final Sustainable Water Quiz

Question

What are three problems with sand dams?

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Answer

Siltation, contamination, and water loss

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Question

Why is a sand dam considered a 'bottom up' solution?

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Answer

Because it can be built and managed by villagers and people at the local level, without the need of government or outside experts

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Question

What two geographic requirements are needed for a sand dam?

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Answer

Bedrock that water can't seep through, and available sand in the drainage basin

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Question

Why is it not recommendable to have a sand dam as the sole source of water?

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Answer

Because over-reliance on a single water source is risky in an arid climate. If the sand dam fails or runs out of water, water may not be available until the next rain.

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Question

(True or False) Sand dams typically provide water to people for an entire year.

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Answer

False. Sand dams are rarely able to provide for a community's water needs for this long.

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Question

The typical amount of water that is stored by a sand dam is

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Answer

millions of litres

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Question

What material is used to construct sand dams?

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Answer

Reinforced concrete

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Question

What country has the most sand dams?

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Answer

Kenya. it has thousands.

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Question

Why might a Kenyan sand dam model not work in Ethiopia or Burkina Faso?

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Answer

Because local geographic conditions such as bedrock or climate may be different, requiring adaptations of the model to local conditions, or a different model altogether.

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Question

What three major global issues do water dams help people adapt to?

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Answer

Desertification, drought, and climate change

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Question

Who is alleged to have said the following quote?


'There is more water in the south and less water in the north. If possible, it is okay to borrow a little.'

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Answer

Mao Zedong

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Question

What is a top-down approach? 

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Answer

In a top-down approach, leaders make decisions and provide instruction to subordinates.

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Question

In the South-North Water Transfer Project, most of the water is being diverted from which river and its tributaries? 

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Answer

Yangtze River

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Question

Where does the Central Route begin? 

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Answer

The Central Route begins in the Danjiangkou Reservoir.

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Question

The Eastern Route is largely an upgrade of which older system? 

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Answer

Grand Canal

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Question

True or False: Construction on the Western Route has not yet begun. 

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Answer

True!

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Question

About how many people were displaced as a result of construction on the Central Route? 

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Answer

Approximately 330,000 people were displaced as a result of construction on the Central Route.

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Question

When did construction on the South-North Water Transfer Project begin? 

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Answer

2002

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Question

True or False: Plans for the Western Route may negatively affect water supplies in South Korea.

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Answer

False! The Western Route may negatively affect water supplies in Southeast Asia and in South Asia, far from South Korea.

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Question

True or False: The canals have not spread pollution. 

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Answer

False! Pollution can enter through polluted tributaries, which can then leak out into local water supplies.

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Question

Approximately how much money has the South-North Water Transfer Project cost so far? 

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Answer

So far, the project has cost upwards of £65 billion.

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Question

The Central Route has successfully diverted water to which major Chinese city?

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Answer

The Central Route has brought water to Beijing. 

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Question

The Eastern Route has brought water to which major Chinese city? 

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Answer

The Eastern Route has brought water to Tianjin. 

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Question

Which of the following are suitable alternatives to diverting freshwater? Select all that apply. 

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Answer

Collecting rainwater

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Question

What is irrigation?

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Answer

The controlled use of water in agriculture

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Question

What percent of the world's freshwater is used in irrigation?

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Answer

70%

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Question

What percent of all water extracted globally is used in energy?

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Answer

15%

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Question

Which of the following is NOT used to create a sustainable water supply?

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Answer

Ensuring that there is more water being extracted than stored

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Question

True or False: installing water meters in houses is a form of water conservation

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Answer

True

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Question

Which of the following is 'grey' water not suitable or?

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Answer

Cooking with

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Question

What is groundwater?

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Answer

Groundwater is water beneath Earth's surface in soil and in the fractures of rock formations. 

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Question

True or False: farmers who overuse pesticides can be fined

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Answer

True

Show question

Question

How tall does a sand dam roughly start at?

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Answer

1 meter

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Question

What is sustainable water management?

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Answer

Sustainable water management is ensuring that there is enough water to meet everyone's current needs whilst ensuring that future generations can meet their water needs.

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