I’ll start this article by explaining how when I was in school and sometimes when a teacher would be explaining something, I would drift off looking at the Useful Information Tables on the back of my composition notebook wondering about how useful this information was. Sure, you have to know that 4 cups make a quart, 4 quarts make a gallon, but sometimes from there it just gets fuzzy. What is a Gill? Up to Hogshead? and how do they relate to our everyday lives? Well maybe, I should have paid more attention to the teacher and I might have learned that a Hogshead is a casket for shipping wine and can vary from 60 to 73 gallons, depending on what type of wine.
Sometimes, that useful information is something we might just store somewhere in the back of our minds and then as it might relate to something else and as other information arises it adds to a larger understanding of the world around us.
One day I was sitting in my truck during a early summer storm that had produced 4” of rain and I noticed that at a local hospital, their irrigation system was still going throwing more water onto a saturated lawn and the excess was running off down the street with the rest of the rain water into a storm drain, and I couldn’t help but think of that ‘Useful Information’ in the back that book. I was thinking of liquid measurements and how they do relate to our lives.
Start small, one raindrop, which can vary in size from .1mm with mist up 5mm with a heavy downpour, but for measurement purposes:
20 drops = 1 milliliter
29.57 ml. per ounce = 591 drops,
75,648 drops per gallon.
One inch of rainfall over the area of an acre = 27,154 gallons
One foot of rainfall over the area of an acre is an acre/foot =325,853 gallons
One cubic mile (cu./mi) of water is 3,379,200 acre/feet
The landmass of New Hampshire, is 9,304 sq. miles at 640 acres per sq. mile = 5,954,560 acres.
The average yearly precipitation for NH is 44”which is: 6.461 cu./mi of water
As the rain falls in areas undisturbed with natural vegetation: 50% of it infiltrates into soil; 10% stays on the surface and runs off and the remainder is taken up by plants or evaporates back into the atmosphere
In areas where there is impervious surfaces 15% infiltrates the soil, 55% runs off and with less vegetation more of the remainder evaporates
New Hampshire Estuaries Project in conducting studies of impervious surfaces in the Greater Coastal Watershed, which includes 42 communities and found it to have about 8% (2005) impervious surface. The area covered is 585,462 acres of which 45,561 (2005) acres are impervious with an estimated increase of 1256 acres per year.
The average person uses 80 gallons of water per day; 29,200 gallons per year for personal use and with a population in New Hampshire of 1,310,000 (2005) it comes out to be 104,800,000 gallons of water is used in a day. Industry and agriculture uses much larger volumes of water to produce their products.
Photo from “Designs on the Land” by Alex Maclean – farming in the desert
Nationwide the breakdown of water usage is: Public supply 11%, domestic >1%(wells), Irrigation 34%(farming), Industrial 5%, Thermoelectric power 48% (2000-USGS)
There isn’t much information about contamination of surface and ground water available as measurements, but the amount oil from one car oil change improperly disposed of has the potential to contaminate 1,000,000 gallons of surface / ground water (EPA).
In 1999 -78 million pounds of pesticides were sold to US households for personal use.
With fertilizers, pesticides and other toxins one just needs to visit a local store to find the huge volume of product that is meant to be dumped on the soil and how much of it makes it way into surface / ground water? And with the other products toxic in nature, how much it is improperly disposed of or sent to landfills?
In order to keep a 10,000 sq ft lawn green all summer requires applying 1” of water =6,400 gallons a week: for 24 weeks =153,600 gallons: this is a 100’x100’ piece of lawn and makes the assumption that people wouldn’t tend to over water. It is estimated that in US there are 30 million acres of lawn (2004) Three times as much area than is used for growing corn. It certainly isn’t the case that a large percentage of this total lawn area is irrigated, but is many parts of the country it is, for the amount of rainfall they receive, their lawns couldn’t survive. It is also more of an expectation today that our lawns stay green all summer so the need for irrigation will increase.
There is so much more information (useful or not) out there, that is easily available, but the basic fact is water is the essence of life and without it there can be no life. We in NE seem to have an abundance of it, both in rain fall and in ground water supplies, but with its’ overuse, misuse and abuse of this precious resource, it may not always be as simple as turning on the tap to have a drink of water. Worldwide, 1.1 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water and that number will surely rise with time.
There are many, very good books about the subject of water and I might suggest a few:
Water Follies by Robert Jerome Glennon- concerning water usage in the US
Blue Gold by Maude Barlow &Tony Clarke- concerning how water as a public resource is changing to a worldwide commodity and the impact it is and will have.
When the Rivers Run Dry by Fred Pearce- the environmental impacts from overuse and abuse of the world’s water supplies
The Great Lakes Water Wars by Peter Annin- on the subject of the largest fresh water body in the world and how everyone wants a piece of it.
“Unquenchable – America’s Water Crisis And What To Do About It” by Robert Glennon
“Water A Natural History” by Alice Outwater
“Designs on the Land: Exploring America from the Air” by Alex S. MacLean