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OM in the News: Water as a Sustainability Issue

October 19, 2011

One of my favorite features in Fortune magazine is called The Chartist, a graphical analysis of any number of various topics. This week’s issue of Fortune (Oct 17,2011) deals with the vast amount of water used in manufacturing, agriculture, and by us as individuals. It ties in directly to our treatment of sustainability in Supplement 5 in discussing short-term problems and long-term solutions.

With all the bottled water we swig and all the showers we take, one would think people consume most of the earth’s water. In fact, according to the Chartist’s excellent graphs, agriculture accounts for 71% and industry for 16% of global water use. A pair of blue jeans requires 2,906 gallons, most of it from growing cotton. A car requires 104,000 gallons, most of it from rubber. It takes 252 gallons to make a pair of rubber gloves, while a pound of steel uses 31 gallons. And it takes 71 gallons of H2O to produce an 8 oz. cup of Starbucks. (That company, by the way, plans to cut its water use by 25% in the next 4 years with more efficient machines).

Who uses the most water per capita? It’s the US at 2,057 gallons. Australia uses 1,675: Argentina 1,163: Russia 1,340: Sweden 1,033: China 775: and the Congo 400. The world average is 1,003 gallons per capita  per day.

And who pays the most for 100 gallons of tap water?  Copenhagen is highest at $3.03, followed by Paris at $1.48, London at $0.73, Phoenix at $0.59, Tokyo at $0.46, NYC at $0.39, Moscow at $0.24, Shanghai at $0.07, Mumbai at  $0.04, and Buenos Aires at $0.01.

Expanding populations in developing nations will swell the demand for agricultural water some 42% by 2013. The hope is that OM can find new technologies to grow more with less water by then.

Discussion questions:

1. How can OM help solve the water shortage problems being faced in many parts of the world?

2. Will water be the gold of the 21st century?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 19, 2011 1:13 pm

    You’ve shared some amazing facts regarding water. I didn’t know them. Thanks.

  2. October 19, 2011 4:48 pm

    One of our readers just sent me this email, so I decided to add it to the comments:

    I loved todays Blog. My background is environmental engineering and I spent much of my consulting career dealing with sustainable yield, hydraulic modeling, and strategic water supply planning including the conjunctive use of both traditional and non-traditional sources. I seem to spend a lot of time explaining to my students that green-design is not just a marketing strategy or the domain of environmental engineers but is increasingly becoming a core responsibility of OM. In part because it is the responsible think to do but in practicality because it reduces cost and increases operational flexibility. I have had discussions with many industries who are constrained by either their consumptive water use permit or the uncertainty of it’s renewal and reeducating water requirements for their processes represents at the least reduced cost and sometimes potential for increased capacity. Especially as MFLs are being developed and the push towards TMDL/NNCs is rapidly forcing more and more BMPs onto industry and agriculture.

    Thanks for the email. Jay and I plan to add a chapter on Sustainability to the next edition of the text. We agree that the topic is becoming more and more important.

  3. October 20, 2011 8:13 am

    Those are very interesting facts. Thank you.
    And, to answer one of the questions you posed at the end of your entry, I believe water will be oil of the 21st century. As climate change threatens the water supply of billions in Asia, plus the (unfortunate) growth of water intensive energy production such as the Alberta Oil Sands and hydraulic fracturing and the shear increase in water demands due to increased population, water will be very important in the 21st century.

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