With the changing of the season so obvious where I live – especially the beauty of the leaves on trees turning yellow, orange, red and brown amongst the greens, the cycles of nature are front and center in my mind. Also, water has been on my mind. There is the melting of polar and glacial ice, the appearance that storms are increasing in their intensity, drought in some areas leading to large and intense wildfires and just having enough clean and safe drinking water for the burden of humanity.
For too long, humankind has treated the Earth as though it was a supermarket of resources to be tapped, extracted and exploited for profitable gain and usage. When I was growing up in the El Paso TX desert area, the Rio Grande always had water flowing. One year not too long ago, there was only dry river bed. Because Nature is not static, water levels are always changing. The amount of snow in the Colorado Mountains in winter or the release of excess water by the Mexican government preparing for “flood season” can greatly change the flow of the Rio Grande from one year to the next or from one week to the next. In my early adulthood, I once saw a girl drown in that unpredictable river.
On our own farm, the farm pond and beaver ponds can be full and overflowing in Springtime and dry and minimal this time of year. These are all reflections of the natural cycles of nature and water and we would do well to learn to understand them and cooperate with them, rather than fighting against nature or polluting the little fresh water the planet actually has available. We are a “water” planet which is crucial to all of life.
Water makes up about 71% of the Earth’s surface, while the other 29% consists of continents and islands. However, 96.5% of all the Earth’s water is contained within the oceans as salt water, while the remaining 3.5% is freshwater lakes and frozen water locked up in glaciers and the polar ice caps. Of that fresh water, almost all of it takes the form of ice: 69% of it, to be exact. If you could melt all that ice, and the Earth’s surface was perfectly smooth, the sea levels would rise to an altitude of 2.7 km. For those like me who don’t do metric easily that is a rise of almost 9,000 feet or over 1-1/2 miles. Wow !!
The amount of water that exists as groundwater, rivers, lakes, and streams is only a little over 0.7% of the planet’s total water resources. It is a much rarer and more precious commodity than most people are aware it is as they flush their toilet, water their yards and fill up their drinking container.
Water has many forms which most of us are intimately familiar with — rain, hail, snow, ice, steam, fog and dew. Even though the minerals in salt water are harmful to most land plants and animals, it is from these vast salty reservoirs (the seas and oceans) that most of our precipitation (rain, snow, etc) rises up to form clouds and comes down upon the land and flows back into the ocean again. The water, or hydrologic, cycle never ends. That is a good thing.
Each person needs about a gallon a day for drinking, cooking, and washing. The average water usage in medieval times was no more than 3 to 5 gallons a day per person. Presently in the United States, people are using about 1,500 gallons a day for their needs and comforts which does include recreation, cooling, food production, and industrial use related to their existence. Another Wow !!
I have been aware for a long time that there are concerns about enough fresh water for the planet’s growing and evolving population. Long ago, Leonardo da Vinci acknowledged that water is the driving force of all nature. In many places on this planet reservoirs and aquifers are drying up. Currently, one in seven people on the planet lacks access to safe drinking water. In some places in the Middle East water has become more important than oil and governments invest in desalination plants. Up to 75% of the farmers in the hot dry plains of northern India, eastern Pakistan and Bangladesh intensely irrigate their crops with pumped groundwater and their use of that water is intensifying.
The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change predictss that the fraction of global population experiencing water scarcity is destined to increase throughout the 21st century. More and more, people and nations will have to compete for those water resources. Jean Chrétien, former Canadian prime minister and co-chair of the InterAction Council, admits that “Using water the way we have in the past simply will not sustain humanity in future.”
So what can be done ? As far back as 2010, 1200 leading international experts from 80 different countries came together and created a list of 19 partial solutions to the Freshwater challenges facing humanity. Of course raising consumer awareness and teaching how to make better use of limited water resources tops the list and is why I am writing a blog about this today. I always seek to be part of “the solution” to whatever concerns me rather than part of the “problem” which only leaves one mired in disfunction.
Wastewater treatment is an obvious place to conserve and revitalize the water that exists. Advanced technologies for cleansing wastewater continue to progress and develop refinements. Clearly agricultural and irrigation practices need rethinking. 70 percent of the world’s freshwater is currently used for agriculture. Water needs to be revalued at higher prices which would reduce waste and pollution. One way to conserve fresh water is to improve the catchment of water running off paved surfaces in urban areas.
Good water management takes into consideration the whole ecosystem – sewage treatment plants could be operated in partnership with clean energy producers who use the wastewater to fertilize algae and other biofuel crops. Those crops, in turn, have an ability not only to soak up nutrients but purify the wastewater which can reduce pumping and treatment costs.
Yemm & Hart’s Origins Material uses recycling water that is heated and sent through piping to melt the recycled post-consumer plastic flakes and pellets loaded into the trays of our press. Then, recycling cool water is sent through pipes to set the material into the patterns that make Origins unique. It is the melting flow of plastic which then is “frozen” into place that gives us a random and natural patterning effect.
What’s new with the most “ECO” of all materials ? (Yeah, I’m talking WATER) I believe that what’s new is a developing but radical change in humanity understanding not only the precious nature of this natural resource but regarding each person’s role in conserving and protecting it’s life sustaining qualities.
Think about it the next time you take a thirst-quenching drink of pure, clean water.
~ Information Resources
Conservation and the Water Cycle posted at NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service, a branch of the USDA – United States Dept of Agriculture) – http://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/factpub/aib326.html
As Rio Grande water levels rise, Border Patrol warns of dangers by Analise Ortiz posted May 26, 2015 at ValleyCentral.com – http://valleycentral.com/news/local/as-rio-grande-water-levels-rise-border-patrol-warns-of-dangers?id=1209856
What Percent of Earth is Water? by Matt Williams posted Dec 1, 2014 at Universe Today – http://www.universetoday.com/65588/what-percent-of-earth-is-water/
Length Units Converter from The Engineering ToolBox – http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/unit-length-converter-d_851.html
Why fresh water shortages will cause the next great global crisis by Robin McKie posted March 7, 2015 in The Guardian – http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/08/how-water-shortages-lead-food-crises-conflicts
Experts Name the Top 19 Solutions to the Global Freshwater Crisis posted May 24, 2010 at Circle of Blue – http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2010/world/experts-name-the-top-19-solutions-to-the-global-freshwater-crisis/
Yemm & Hart Origins – http://www.yemmhart.com/materials/origins/colorchartpatterns.html
Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer
Water seems to have been the “material” focus of my week. Just yesterday, March 22nd, 2014 many people all over the planet celebrated World Water Day thanks to events organized by Unify.org. Many of my acquaintances are aware that, thanks to internet connectivity, the good will of average people can be harnessed – to raise awareness, and even to encourage active participation, in collective events. People Power. There is only ONE Body of Water which is expressed on this planet, as all rivers, streams, lakes, and oceans. All water is connected – there are no political or physical boundaries – keeping any drop of water from any other global water. All humans, regardless of race, religion or creed, were born from a womb of water, depend on water to live and have some connection with water everyday.
For 25 years, we have been among the FIRST YEAR teams to sign up for a Missouri Stream Team. We are happy to be sharing the joy of celebrating their 25th Anniversary. We mentored a group that wanted to start a stream team for a local river. We recycled as much of the trash that we took out of the river as possible – with these results – out of 1/2 ton of trash collected by 4 adults and 2 children in 7-1/2 hrs spent wading the Castor River near Marquand, with our recycling experience we were able to fully recycle over 92%.
Missouri Streams Teams are volunteers trained and involved in more than trash removal, they are trained to test scientific water quality measurements, to understand the characteristics of a watershed, to raise awareness in order to prevent storm drains from being used as disposal sites. And the FRESH water quality issues the MO Stream Teams are willing to tackle grow – year by year.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that between 0.1% and 0.4% of usable surface aquifers are contaminated by industrial impoundments and landfills. Dumps and landfills are a threat to water supplies when water percolates through waste, picking up a variety of substances such as metals, minerals, organic chemicals, bacteria, viruses, explosives, flammables, and other toxic materials. This contaminated water is called leachate and is produced when the waste becomes saturated with water. Wastes with high moisture content or which receive artificial irrigation, rainwater, surface or groundwater infiltration produce leachate and methane gas. It has been shown that once a dump is saturated, annual precipitation of 36 inches per year can percolate 1 million gallons of contaminated water per acre. If the leachate is not contained and migrates from a site the chemical and physical properties of the substances and the soil, as well as the hydrogeological conditions around the site, will determine the extent of contamination. If a leachate reaches ground or surface water it could contaminate water supply wells.
Dumps and landfills are not entirely synonymous and a distinction should be made. A dump is defined as, “a site used to dispose of solid wastes without environmental controls”. The term ‘landfill’ is replacing ‘dump’ due to the modernization of our solid waste facilities. Landfill is defined as a “facility in which solid waste from municipal and/or industrial sources is disposed”. Sanitary landfills are those that “are operated in accordance with environmental protection standards”. This distinction is very important because it allows us to distinguish between two different eras and practices. Even so, some modernized landfills are poorly engineered or located in an environmentally unsound areas. The upgrade of waste disposal sites from dumps to environmentally sound, solid waste disposal systems was mandated by a set of hazardous waste amendments passed in 1986. Landfills are now regulated at one of three class levels, depending on the nature of solid or hazardous waste accepted.
Well designed landfills should not cause water quality problems because leachate problems are anticipated and controlled. The Stream Teams clean up illegal dumping but in our local area, the landfill has been closed by more stringent standards and all of our local waste is transferred to an “approved” landfill. Still, since we have to drive at least 20 mins to take landfill trash and recyclables to our local county seat – we do compost everything organic – and sort for recycling, everything that we can. We have to drive over an hour to drop off glass at a facility that will accept it. There are local people happy to take our metals to a salvaging facility, in exchange for whatever the going rate of compensation for it is.
In Missouri, we are blessed with an abundance of FRESH water. I grew up in El Paso, TX, the desert southwest alongside the Rio Grande River. Although many people joked about our river during my childhood public school days in the late 1960s, early 1970s; at least, there was always WATER flowing there through it. In my early twenties, I witnessed a young girl drown, in that river. So you may be able to imagine my personal sadness, to see the Rio Grande River completely DRY; when I took my children for a visit in Jan 2013, to the places around NM and TX that I was born and raised in, or had lived in the Mexican border culture of.
Water is one of the MOST BASIC components of life on Earth. It is what makes our planet so truly beautiful when viewed from outer space. Many experts agree that the most serious issue facing humanity both NOW and into the future is the issue of drinkable, fresh water. The water we drink today has likely been around in one form or another since dinosaurs roamed the Earth, hundreds of millions of years ago. The Mountain Valley bottled spring water my family drinks (the water from our well is not really palatable but at least it is safe for drinking, cooking and bathing in) comes from deep in the Arkansas mountains and is estimated to be thousands of years old by the time it filters down to the source and is discharged again.
While the amount of freshwater on the planet has remained fairly constant over time — ingeniously and continually recycled by Nature’s wisdom, through the atmosphere and back into our drinking cups — the planetary population has exploded since the 1930s. This means that every year, the competition for a clean, abundant supply of water for drinking, cooking, bathing, and sustaining life grows more fierce. Water scarcity is already a reality for many people on our planet.
You might be surprised to learn that fresh water makes up a very small fraction of all of the water on the planet. While it is true that nearly 70 percent of the world is covered by water, it can be startling to learn that only 2.5 percent of this water is fresh, drinkable water. The rest is salty in our oceans and seas. Water is actually even more scarce than I have shared thus far – only 1 percent of ALL the planetary fresh water resources are easily accessible, because a lot of that water is trapped in glaciers and snowfields. So that we are now down to the fact that only 0.007 percent of the planet’s water is actually available to living entities on this planet, to fuel and feed its 6.8 billion + people (and much more “life”, than people life, depends on water to nourish it).
Due to many diverse factors, some regions, like our state of Missouri, can seem so abundant in fresh water that it is hardly given a second thought. But many people on this planet, even here in the United States like the state of California, face critical issues of drought. Many others have unacceptably polluted waters. In much of the developing world, clean water is hard to come by for many diverse reasons.
We need to hold precious ALL of the water on our planet and individually there are many things that we can do – recycle, properly dispose of medications, fuels and oils, never litter, never dump, refuse to waste water where it is in short supply. Rethink our landscape choices to reduce the burden of watering and irrigation on fresh water resources. Yemm & Hart, by being active in water quality and recycling issues, is walking their talk every day. How about you ?
~ Information Resources
Drinking Water Contamination by Dumps and Landfills – http://extoxnet.orst.edu/faqs/safedrink/dumps.htm
Freshwater Crisis posted in the National Geographic – http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/freshwater/freshwater-crisis/
Unify – bringing people together, for the good of all – http://unify.org/
Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer
We are such a globally “sourced” world now but even if that keeps the costs of goods low to the consumers, I don’t really think this is a good thing for the mass of humanity and quality of life. I would rather pay more and have a world that works for everyone. My partner, Stephen Yemm, often muses that countries should keep some basic goods production in operative condition – both for employment and for security. Also, we both became a bit more aware of the issue of human trafficking by watching a 2010 movie recently – based on a true story – titled The Whistleblower.
So, this desire for “a world that works for everyone” is not a bleeding heart liberal perspective but a very practical and realistic perspective, on the state of the global economy as it exists at the moment. There is too much emphasis on more and more consumption, for one thing. There is too much exploitation going on – of people and resources. There is something wrong when local agricultural land is purchased and used to grow foodstuffs for a more affluent consumer, while the local population is left dependent upon charitable “excess” big ag food hand-outs.
On Halloween, during a long drive with family from St Louis, after having a bit of themed fun there at the old Lemp Brewery (such well-built architecture; and so sound, even at a century old !!), my husband and I explored issues of restroom partition hardware. The “Lemp” story is about how those old German brewers recognized the advantages of LOCAL natural resources (including the river and the huge caverns below) to bring financial success into their ventures. While I don’t have any ready answers regarding our own business’ involvement with anodized bright aluminum finishing for restroom partition hardware – thanks to my iPhone, during that long drive home on Halloween night, I learned a lot.
It does pay to ask questions, and do the research, and try to understand the environmental complexities of the choices that we make. We first began to have questions about the origins of the hardware that is kitted up by our “partner” in restroom fabrication some years ago. In truth, we only have control over the high density polyethylene plastic that we source from 100% post-consumer processors but which is the bulk by volume of any restroom partition installation. However, the buck stops here at our business, when it comes to financial involvements. We experienced a shower installation which included stainless steel hardware. Imagine our disappointment and shock, when rust started showing through !! In researching the problem, the best answer was that it had an “inferior” coating. It seemed to have been sourced off-shore by our fabricator in order to save money and keep costs low.
Rather than accept their offer of an inexpensive solution (they were willing to replace that hardware with pretty much the same product), we simply couldn’t accept the possibility that it would just rust all over again; and therefore, our customer would be left disappointed once again, regarding the performance of our produce on their project. So, we paid more, to purchase “Made in the USA” stainless steel hardware; and we have heard no more complaints about that installation. Another restroom partition associated partner, recently shared with us their concerns about the environmental impacts of brightly anodized aluminum hardware being sourced off-shore, most likely from China. Stories abound about real circumstances that would leave any thoughtful person concerned, about China’s inability to police sufficiently, all the businesses that sell products into the United States. We are proud be a “Made in the USA” producer of quality building-related materials.
On our drive home from St Louis, thanks to google and my iPhone, I got a little education about the anodizing process, which includes significant potentials for disturbing pollution. It was inspiring to read the story of an Ohio manufacturer, Anomatic Corporation of Newark, OH, which expresses itself as a great role model and an example of “government working” and the value of enforcing environmental regulations. The air and water that people in the vicinity of that processor must cope with, is less likely to cause health impacts because they are a business that actually cares, even if they are also coerced a bit by regulation. Much of that anodizing process has moved off-shore because the environment oversight is less burdensome for the multinational corporations whose practices are often exploitative. You can read about the great lengths the Anomatic Corporation goes to, in order to anodize metal (which does lend important durability aspects) in an environmentally safe way, at this link – http://www.anomatic.com/pdf/anomatic-sustainability-the-environment.pdf.
The tide goes out and the tide comes back in. Such are the cycles of nature. After WWII, the United States sent their genius of automation, Dr Edwards Deming, to help the Japanese recover from the wounds of war. I still remember when the words “Made in Japan” suggested the same inferior quality that the words “Made in China” do now. I know that I read labels – I’m not buying any food product for my children or our felines that isn’t made in the United States. I simply lack the confidence to trust my beloveds well-being, to Chinese oversight.
I am happy to see some plastics manufacturing returning to the United States but I have deep concerns about fracking, which is the source of the industry’s optimism. I am happy that there are efforts to train workers for sewing jobs in the state of Minnesota. Garment and Shoe Factories were once major employers in our region. Mining was also. I think we are shortsighted to have allowed the demise of the steel industry in this country. We are short-sighted not to care about the well-being of people – about a world that works for everyone. I mean that word “works” in a very broad sense – the people have “work” to do that maintains their sense of pride and self-worth, that the systems that supply basic goods – food, clothing, etc – to people are maintained locally, without the need to transport such items by air or ocean.
I want a world that works because everything is in balance again; and people and resources are not exploited, simply to line the pockets of the wealthiest 1%. Rising wages in Asia are also helping to return “work” to the United States. I know that it is naïve to expect that automation and robotics are going to cease being an important aspect of production; and honestly, to the degree that it keeps people out of harmful environments, I’m all for it. However, for a long as 30 years ago, I personally believed that such a return to a balanced economic situation is necessary – for the overall quality of life to improve and progress. Those in the significant position of specifying materials are part of that opportunity for improvement. The more informed and aware these professionals are, regarding the small details and fine points of their choices, the more certain it becomes that our children will find in their own tomorrows, that the world does work for everyone; and that local well-being is an important part of that equation.
Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer