We all know how important water is to us – drinking, washing, cooking, showering, watering – all part of the things we do with it every day. Water, and clean drinking water, is essential to all of us. For most of us, when we turn on the tap, water will flow – it comes so natural that we rarely think about where the water comes from, and how they came here. To have access to clean drinking water is central part of human activities since the ancient time. To have such access, sometimes huge infrastructures are built over a vast territory. The aqueducts in Roman Empire is one of the most distinguished examples.
Roman aqueduct and drinking water
According to “Roman aqueduct” in Wikipedia, “The Romans constructed numerous aqueducts in order to bring water from often distant sources into cities and towns, supplying public baths, latrines, fountains and private households…Rome‘s first aqueduct supplied a water fountain sited at the city’s cattle market. By the 3rd century AD, the city had eleven aqueducts, sustaining a population of over a million in a water-extravagant economy”. The Roman aqueduct represents one of the greatest engineering achievements in the pre-industrial era. This is one of the 11 aqueducts in Rome, Nero aqueduct, which was built by the infamous emperor that drew water from Claudia aqueduct and sent to his own palace: Thanks to the aqueducts, water is available everywhere in Rome. It is one such city that you may get around without bringing a bottled water. These water fountains are everywhere. They are called “Nasoni”, from the Italian “nasone” (big nose). The water from it tastes good and is safe to drink.
California: complex water infrastructures and networks
In California, to support the big population across the state (close to 40 million as of 2015) , there are vast regional and local water systems. In addition, huge and complex water infrastructures were built to transport water from water abundant areas, e.g., Sierra Nevada snow mountains, to where they are needed, on top of the local supply. Some of the projects include:
- Central Valley project, that transports water to the farmlands in central valley; and
- State water project, that delivers water to Southern California.
In addition to surface water, underground water also plays a vital role, providing some 30-40% of the state’s total water supply, which goes much higher in dry years. When we have a sip of water from a fountain in the San Francisco Bay area, that water may come from melted snow in Sierra Nevada, and travel hundreds of miles in the vast water network before it arrives in the west coast. It takes a lot of work and huge projects for the water to be delivered to every corner like it is today.
Pollution: Drinking Water Problems
One of the most serious problems related to drinking water is pollution. Bottled water, and the plastics that come along with it, has become a big hazard for our water, especially our ocean and environment. Americans used about 50 billion water bottles a year, however, only 23% were recycled, that means 77% or 38 billion bottles went into landfill, streams, rivers and eventually ocean. There they will not dissolve, but break into smaller pieces which will be ingested by sea animals. This is not a good situation. Another big problem is the chemicals from medicines and personal care products. After the medicines are dumped into toilet, and the shampoos and sunscreens are used and rinsed off in shower, the chemicals will go into sewage and then wastewater treatment facility. Though water are treated at the facilities, they are not designed to treat the thousands of chemicals present, which will then be released back to the rivers and oceans. These pollutants can be hazardous to aquatic animals. An ingredient in sunscreen can harm the coral reefs. The oceans are so polluted now that the dolphin’s immune systems are failing. With the huge water cycle in nature, some of the chemicals make their way back and can be found even in treated drinking water, so in the end it can be harmful to our own health too.
Improve Water Efficiency: Recycle, Reuse
Water is a precious resource needed by everyone. How can we best use such a resource? As Felicia Marcus, Chairman of California Water Board put it: “In Southern California and the Bay Area, we have this massive infrastructure to transport water from the mountains, use it once, and then send it out to sea. Instead, we should be capturing more rainwater, recycling it, and reusing it over and over. ” As Californians learned in the historic 5 year drought, replacing lawns with water efficient gardens can save water significantly which helped us cope with the drought. The next step will be to capture and store more of the rainwater, and reuse it. Use permeable materials in the garden, harvest rain water with a rain barrel, install a rain garden: these are some of the things we can do to further improve the efficiency of our water.