Peak Water ?

Last week, we discussed Peak Oil; Today, we look at "Peak Water."

Click for ginormous graphics






UPDATE: May 27 2008 8:08pm

A reader send in this report from Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), titled Saving Water: From Field to Fork Curbing losses and wastage in the food chain

Download Paper_13_Field_to_Fork.pdf

Peak Water: Aquifers and Rivers Are Running Dry. How Three Regions Are Coping
Matthew Power
WIRED MAGAZINE: 16.05 04.21.08 | 6:00 PM
Science  :  Planet Earth

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. tyaresun commented on May 27

    Global warming will change all that. With all the glaciers melting, sea levels rising, there will be plenty of rain and all will be merry.

  2. Mike M commented on May 27

    It takes 20 gallons to make a glass of beer? Damn, I consume a lot of water!

  3. gbug208 commented on May 27

    Now this is getting ridiculous!

  4. daveNYC commented on May 27

    Why is Australia looking so good? Last I heard they were dealing with a drought.

    The difference between PNG and the bit of Indonesia (that is Indonesia, right?) that’s on the same island is also interesting. I’d almost say that they just broke this thing up by countries, but the colors for Turkey are different between the Asian and European sides.

  5. B commented on May 27

    Maybe we’ll be able to trade water for oil soon.

  6. Estragon commented on May 27


    Just because a country has a lot of water doesn’t mean the water is where the people and/or agriculture are. Australia is a big place.

  7. ReductiMat commented on May 27

    Water, like beer, is rented.

    It’s one thing to say, it takes x gallons of water to make y. The burning question is where does that water go, and can we reclaim it before nature does?

  8. patfla commented on May 27

    Hi, how can Asia consume 50% of the total and yet have only 29% of the resources?

    It must be because resources are regional totals and much larger than yrly consumption.

    I wish they’d somehow attached nominal values to the two pie charts.

    But another question. Agriculture is by far the largest user of water (as the graphic points out). Experts, such as Lester Brown, point out that, in some sense, to export agricultural products is to export water. And to import food is to import water. Egypt is the #1 world importer in the world of wheat (much of it, one assumes, from the US since the US is the largest exporter). Well, Egypt doesn’t have a lot of water and they have a relatively large population. The #2 world importer (again if memory serves) is Japan. This case is different. Japan has very little land that can be cultivated (the country is mostly mountainous). And on what land there is, it’s mostly rice that’s grown. Tradition of course, but also Japan’s astronomically high rice subsidies. I lived in Japan for 6 yrs. There are a lot of bakeries; the Japanese like bread; and there’s bread all over the place. Egypt lacks water, but Japan has money. And hence the two largest importers of wheat. And probably the US’ two largest wheat customers.

    Wonder if food=water is included in the Consumption pie chart (I’d guess not).

    So anyway, what I can gather from the two pie charts is that Asia is consuming its way through its water reserves at a faster clip than any other region. Which is not surprising given its population.


  9. daveNYC commented on May 27

    Yeah Australia is big, but they’re also rich. Some quick Google-fu showed that they were in a drought from ’02 to ’08. If they were that hooked up with water then I would have thought there would be some big irrigation projects in the works.

    The poster shows them being good to go until 2025. It might not be wrong, but I’m wondering if it’s more ‘pretty colors’ than ‘solid data’.

  10. surferdude commented on May 27

    great looking graphics, but not so sure about their accuracy. today, there is the same amount of water on this planet as there was eons ago. hence, there is no concept such as “peak water.” the only question is where is the water relative to population. this is not the first time nor will it be the last that populations have fought over water. water, or the lack thereof, is the primary reason for the civil war in darfur. the question is, do we globally solve the logistically problem between areas of population with disappearing water peacefully. history says that is not a good wager to go long on.

  11. mat commented on May 27

    how is it possible that spain would be with more water than france or england in 2025 ?? less water per capita in belgium than in australia at the end ?? i have never read a map with these conclusions about this subject…very strange

  12. VJ commented on May 27


    From your link:

    To illustrate the potential problem, let’s make a couple of assumptions … let’s assume the current trend continues, and corn remains the crop of choice to make ethanol.


    Wrong assumption.


    BTW, I noticed that both the Aston Martin and Corvette teams are utilizing cellulosic ethanol in their GT1 cars in the American LeMans series this year.

  13. ottnott commented on May 27

    I agree with surferdude – “peak water” is not a useful concept.

    The issues with water are distribution of water rights, physical distribution of the water, and water cleanliness.

    The “peak water” term might be useful in some localized areas that currently depend on, and are depleting, underground aquifers. Even there, though, the “peak water” term is likely to mislead. A more useful concept would be sustainable draw on the aquifer (and the amount of the sustainable draw can be increased by human effort).

  14. Dan commented on May 27

    I lived in Arizona for 15 years and made a deliberate study of water and usage. In addition to the colorado, 4 river systems flow through Phoenix. They supply the bulk of the water. The colorado is the back-up system. The water usage in the phoenix area is as follows:
    #1 User: Agriculture (By Far)
    #2 User: Residential Outside the house(Yes, Lawns, trees, etc)
    #3 User: Recreation Industries (Golf)
    #4 User: Industry
    #5 User: Residential Inside the house

    Arizona has a large water supply per capita. Probably larger than some areas where the landscape is naturally green. (the reason is the enormously large and unpopulated drainage area of the rivers in the SW)

    The problem is how it’s used, not the amount available.

    Also, the picture in that video is reflective of a long drought. My sources tell me that the flow from the Colorado this year is at a 10 year high (I know, just one data point…). So, I think the media embedded some alarmism in those images.

  15. Andy Reyburn commented on May 27

    Strickly speaking, water is almost never “used,” just manipulated. Water just moves around the planet. In some places, the use more than they have locally available, like California.

    In many cases, industrial uses of water are not “end” uses. For example, Iceland uses a great deal of its water to make hydroelectric power. Either way, power or no, most of this water goes to the ocean. It is not, ultimately, wasted. (It’s diversion may have other environmental effects, but it is not wasted.)

    Similar thing in the US Midwest. We use a lot of water for agriculture, but it either reenters out aquifers or is evaporated and “re-rains” on us.

    This is not a fossil fuel kind of issue.

  16. Muckdog commented on May 27

    As if we needed another reason to eliminate the Bush tax cuts for the rich!

  17. Douglas Watts commented on May 27

    Andy Reyburn — It is a fossil fuel kind of issue. The Midwest’s enormously important Ogallala Aquifer is being drawn down by agriculture much faster than it is recharging. Much of the water is “fossil water” that is 15,000 years or older.

    Wiki: Present-day recharge of the aquifer with fresh water occurs at a slow rate; this implies that much of the water in its pore spaces is paleowater, dating back to the last ice age.

  18. rickrude commented on May 27

    Water usually is not a form of potential energy, cannot compare to the combustion of
    fossil fuels.
    Water is plentiful and can be recycled as long as the energy needed is cheap.

    Peak OIL > peak water.

  19. Brendan commented on May 27

    As was stated in the linked article, the situation is very complex, and therefore getting the information from those who understand it (i.e. hydrologists) to those who need to use it in making policy (i.e. the public and politicians) is a pretty daunting task. Dan (above) makes some good points about Arizona, where I live and practice Civil Engineering, so I’m pretty familiar with the situation. The peak oil – peak water analogy definitely isn’t the best. Unlike oil, water is constantly renewing itself, even here in the desert. But like peak oil there is a tipping point where consumption exceeds “production.” Here we call that “safe yield,” and development is griding to a halt in the Prescott area because it’s on the wrong side of that equilibrium (no thanks to us here in the Phoenix metro area “stealing” their water). It seems there are some common sense things that can be done that don’t require too much public or political education to take place; starting with abandoning water-waste-promoting practices like “use-it or lose-it” that left the City of Tucson draining lake Mead to feed a questionably effective “aquifer recharge program,” which amounted transferring water almost 400 miles in open channels to a pond sitting and evaporating in the hot summer sun; not that another Bellagio fountain water feature in Vegas would have necessarily been a much better use.

    I think the lack of a cohesive water policy in the US is going to become more apparent as the years roll on and states and cities fight over water rights. I’m not sure why the article picks on Chandler, when there are cities with far bigger problems (Metro Atlanta and Las Vegas/Henderson/North Las Vegas to name a few), except that it makes a good read. Hopefully we, as a society, don’t repeat the historical mistake of privatizing water any more than it already is. The failing power grid should hopefully give some pause to privatizing something that is clearly a public issue.

  20. mw commented on May 27

    Just a belated comment on “Peak oil”.. With our massive ecologic pressures not to drill offshore and in Alaska, could we have inadvertantly allowed other oil producers to tap out their reserves before us? I read some where that oil seeps to the surface off the coast of California there is so much (“natural oil slicks”) If this is true or not, It is possible we have “held” our reserves? And we may have the “upper hand” on our oil producing friends AND foes in the possible not to distant future. If we come to a real crisis the drills may start up… in the GOOD OLD USA.

  21. wunsacon commented on May 27

    Yes, mw, I try to explain to some of my Greenpeace-hating friends that there’s a “strategic silver lining” to environmentalism.

    The phrase “dependence on foreign oil” would not even begin to describe our situation if we emptied our reserves first.

    Hopefully, we transition to alternative energy anyway. But, I’m sure people understand the significance of the words “contingency plan” and “backup”.

    On a similar note, I disagree with any calls to tap the SPR to make it cheaper for dad to drive joey to soccer practice. The SPR is there in case of an emergency, like a war or a hurricane shutting down the LOOP.

  22. VennData commented on May 27

    I’ve got an idea. Make water illegal.

    Set up and entire agency… call it the WEA (Water Enforcement Agency,) and staff it with the best law enforcement people you can find. Make public service ads against it, in fact, start an entire war on it. The War on Water.

    If you’re caught with more than an ounce, jail. If you’re caught with cheap, dirty water, minimum sentence of twenty years. Find a Czar, preferable a Washington notable, to coordinate Federal and State efforts. Get the schools involved. Get organized medicine to link all sorts of deadly, nasty, and debilitating things to it. Have the President talk about it in ‘The State of the Union.’ Make bumper stickers.

    After a few weeks, the water should really start flowing. So much so, everyone will be so sick of it that de-criminalization of water will be THE issue in 2012.

  23. riverrat commented on May 27

    Thoughtful post Brendan. The best part is the fallacy of privatizing water supplies when it is so clearly a public good.

    I might add that US taxpayers sponsored the Central Arizona Project, which transports water uphill and across the desert in open canals, to the tune of $6 billion. Quite a subsidy for people who live in a desert but want green lawns and golf courses. The water that gets to Tucson interacted with their water pipes in such a way that it tasted funny, so it is now being used to replenish the aquifer that was being overused so much that parts of the city were subsiding a foot or more.

    A good read about this and other zany southwestern US water policies and uses is “Cadillac Desert” by Marc Reisner.

  24. DavidB commented on May 27

    leave it to humanity to be so incompetent that they run short of something that covers 3/4 of the planet(and yes, I KNOW that most of that is salty but there is a concept called desalinization and it is a LOT cheaper than building tanks)

  25. Max commented on May 28

    I think we are approaching “Peak Bullshit”. The Peak Bullshit theory states that the manufacture of bullshit reaches its peak, and then gradually declines. The proponents of the theory suggest many countries already reached their respective bullshit peaks.

  26. Tim commented on May 28

    Any idea where the data in the charts comes from? It would be good to be able to track back to the source and determine whether or not the data is “neutral” or being manipulated by a group with a self-serving agenda.

  27. Bruce commented on May 28

    The answer lies in what my drill sergeant told us when I was in basic training…”If you need to make water, now is the time…”

    The answer is just send enough people to active duty, and we should be able to make enough water for everybody….

    Bruce in Tennessee

  28. Tim commented on Jun 9

    Interesting article from Earth Policy News on:
    Earth Policy News – Falling Water Tables, Falling Harvests

    Whole article is here:

    “Since the overpumping of aquifers is occurring in many countries more or less simultaneously, the depletion of aquifers and the resulting harvest cutbacks could come at roughly the same time. And the accelerating depletion of aquifers means this day may come soon, creating potentially unmanageable food scarcity.”

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