Fluid Solutions

Our Water Future – Without Fear – Part 1 of 8: What is Water?

I believe that water is the single most valuable compound on earth!  Think about that, more valuable than gold or diamonds?  YES!!  But why?

Why Water?

Water is required for life as we understand it.  When was the last time you went 3 days without some form of water?  When scientists search for life on distant planets, they search for water because life as humans define it is biologic.  It feeds our plants, our animals and our bodies.  Without water, nothing biological could live for an extended time.  How long varies, but the need for wet refreshing water is still present for survival.  Do you have that survival need with gold or diamonds?  I would like them but can live without them.  I cannot live without water.  It is what makes the soda and beer taste good.

Pure water is a colorless, odorless chemical compound consisting of two hydrogen, and one oxygen molecule.  H2O is the scientific nomenclature.  The molecule can be found on earth in three phases, solid as ice, liquid as water, and gaseous as vapor.  The amount water found in the earth’s ecosystem is finite.  It does not change, we cannot increase the amount, and we cannot decrease the amount.  That is another point to ponder a moment.  The amount of water on earth is finite.  We only have so much.  So, what happens when I use it?

When we use water, it gets dirty.  When I drink water, my body uses it in my organs and in my blood until it gets what it needs from the water.  I then expel the water from my body through my body’s fluids.  With this water are contaminates and waste products my body does not need.  I drank it and it went through me, I used it twice just in my body.  It gave me hydration and washed away contaminates.  I can now reclaim much of it to use again all within days.  How cool is that?  It can change form and relocate, it can hitch a ride with other materials such as wood, plants and humans, but the amount of water in earth’s ecosystem is the same today as it was 1 million years ago.  If it doesn’t go away, where does it go and why do I care about it?

On earth, our oceans and lakes evaporate into water vapor.  This is carried around our plant in the jet streams until it is redeposited as forms of rain and snow.  Water fills our streams and lakes before it percolates into our aquifers underground or fills our oceans.  Redistributed water feeds Mother Earth so she can feed her inhabitants worldwide.  The global balance of this varies over time as science has shown through tree ring analysis to assess past water availability.  As global conditions changes, the availability of water changes from place to place.  It matters to recognize this because it helps to understand that we must continue to manage our water supplies in our arid part of the world as the world is changing around us.

Water Management Advances

Part of management of water supplies in arid locations is using water for its highest and best uses while also working to accelerate Mother Nature’s ability to clean our water for use again instead of taxing Mother Earth.  Humans have gotten pretty good at cleaning up our messes.  In the Middle Ages when sewage fill the gutters, illness was rampant.  When we figured out why, we invented ways to collect and dispose of the waste away from the populations.  When we realized we were just polluting the water supplies of our downstream neighbors, we invented ways to clean the water.  Initially through natural systems such as lagoons and wetlands which shortened treatment from years to months.  Later mechanical system came along which shortened treatment time from months to days.  Mechanical systems also took up less space and odors could be contained and controlled.  Today mechanical systems include membranes such as electro-dialysis and reverse osmosis as well as chemical and biochemical mechanisms.  Through technological advances we can treat larger and larger quantities of water in smaller spaces and to very high quality.

Collection and treatment are just one of the ways we can extend the useful life of a gallon of water in the community.  Municipalities in our arid state have been doing this for decades with small communities adding treatment systems every year.  Why?  Because it helps us to continue to grow our communities in a sustainable way so our children and grandchildren can live here and enjoy this life as well.  It helps to preserve our precious water supply today and into the future.

Consider this… …When astronauts live in the International Space Station, they consume water in many ways.  In their bodies, experiments and washing to name a few uses.  Think about the amount of water needed and wastewater generated in a year if the astronauts only used water one time before discarding it.  Imagine a big back yard swimming pool.  Now consider a closed system where the water is cleaned and recycled over and over and over again. Instead of storing and wasting large quantities of water, a small quantity is used and reused over and over again to sustain life.  That big back yard swimming pool is a smaller pool supporting an entire community of astronauts.

There are contaminates that water can carry that hurt the ability to live healthy lives.  When water gets dirty, it has things that we do not want in the water.  Historically, Mother Nature has cleaned this water for all life through filtration in the soils and uptake by plants and vaporization through evaporation.  Now we accelerate her accomplishments with technology.  Today, human accomplishments can clean water as well and better than Mother Nature in a fraction of the time.  Consider a gallon of water takes about one day to be treated in a municipal wastewater treatment plant.  That same gallon may take a path of years to decades to centuries to be treated by Mother Nature.  The value is that we can recycle water more efficiently than ever before allowing a lesser volume serve a greater purpose, as shown by the space station.

Pure water is hungry.  Pure water is rare naturally on earth because it has a chemical imbalance.  Because of this imbalance, water wants to chemically bond with other compounds adding contaminates to it such as salts and metals that readily dissolve into the water.  As long as water is out of balance, it hunts for things to dissolve and bond with.  In science the hunger is noticed as an ionic imbalance that attracts things to bond with the water chemically.  Simply put it is hungry, it eats whatever will help it attain an ionic balance.  Those ions are that positive and negative charge that we were supposed to learn about when we took a high school chemistry class that turned out to be a foreign language to me at the time.  I still struggle to balance a chemical equation.

Membrane technology today allows us to clean water up to its purest form, truly a hungry pure H2O.  Did you know that dialysis was first invented to treat water?  Today, it is used to clean blood and other liquids.  That 1960s invention has evolved into electro-dialysis reversal that can run and continuously clean itself making water treatment more reliable.  It works through selective separation of ions in the water using electrical charge and is capable of reducing water chemistry to H2O and nothing else.

The Power of Water

Pure water will pick up contaminates from anything that can give up ions.  The human body, soils, salts, minerals will all give up ions to dissolve into the water.  Rust on steel is caused by a reaction between the steel, water and air.  When water is hungry it erodes and corrodes things in our lives.  It does this until the water compound reaches a balanced state, chemically.  Water is both the best thing on earth and the most destructive thing on earth at the same time.

  • Water carved the Grand Canyon into the earth. It eroded and carried solid silts and sands while also it dissolved salts and minerals to free more sands and silts for transport as it carved through the history of the earth’s layers.
  • Water is vital for biological survival. Humans need it.  Animals need it. Plants need it.
  • Chemically pure water will eat at its surroundings. It will accelerate the oxidation of steel.  It will attack most materials similarly to a strong acid typical of a low pH.
  • Water that is overloaded with dissolved contaminants will deposit salts on surfaces. This is the scum on the faucet that sticks like glue and fills in the holes in your faucet aerator, typical of a higher pH.
  • Bad tasting water has things dissolved into it that gives it a foul taste or smell such as sulfur. It smells bad and works through your body like a laxative.
  • Aesthetic drinking water has an ionic balance of salts and minerals to give it flavor and balance. It is not acidic or scaling, ideally it will have a pH approaching 7.0 to 7.2 units.  Add a chill and balanced drinking water is refreshing and healthy.

Part 2: “What does Water Mean for a Community, coming next week.