Phosphorus, an element in fertilizer, is essential to the growth of plant food. But the mineral is also harmful when overused. When it gets into surface water, it can lead to excessive plant growth in lakes and rivers and proliferation of toxic algae, harmful to human and animal health.
In 2016 alone, 62 million trees across California have died, representing more than a 100 percent increase in dead trees across the state from 2015. Millions of additional trees are weakened and expected to die in the coming months and years.
Always short of water, Mexico City keeps drilling deeper for more, weakening the ancient clay lake beds on which the Aztecs first built much of the city, causing it to crumble even further. It is a cycle made worse by climate change. More heat and drought mean more evaporation and yet more demand for water, adding pressure to tap distant reservoirs at staggering costs or further drain underground aquifers and hasten the city’s collapse. Around the world, extreme weather and water scarcity are accelerating repression, regional conflicts and violence. A Columbia University report found that where rainfall declines, “the risk of a low-level conflict escalating to a full-scale civil war approximately doubles the following year.” The Pentagon’s term for climate change is “threat multiplier.” And nowhere does this apply more obviously than in cities.
Nitrogen fertilizer applied to farmers' fields has been contaminating rivers and lakes and leaching into drinking water wells for more than 80 years. Elevated nitrate concentrations in rivers and lakes will remain high for decades, even if farmers stop applying nitrogen fertilizers today. Exposure to excessive nitrate in drinking water causes serious health problems.
There are four billion people worldwide who are affected by severe water scarcity for at least one month a year.
Professor Gatze Lettinga is best known for his groundbreaking work on the treatment of used water using anaerobic technology. Prof Lettinga fiercely believes that the purpose of all work – in all fields of human endeavour – is to cure the world of social ills, or what he calls “ugly things”. He did not patent his invention as he believed that technologies that benefit humankind should be made freely available to all. The core technology is still patent-free to this day.
Both prescription and illegal drugs that are abused have been found in Canadian surface waters. New research shows that wastewater discharges flowing downstream have the potential to contaminate sources of drinking water with these drugs at relatively low concentrations. The concentrations of cocaine, morphine, and oxycodone did not decline with distance downstream from the wastewater treatment plant discharge, and many of the drugs were not removed effectively by drinking water treatment plants.
Dhaka struggles to provide enough drinking water for its people despite the fact that it sits on or near four major rivers in a wide delta region. There is plenty of blame to go around for this paradox. But one of the key culprits is the 1,700 factories producing fabric for Bangladesh’s booming textile industry.
As more people move to urban areas, cities around the world including London are experiencing increased water stress and additional supply must be added as they continue to grow, according to a new study. The research also highlights the damage water scarcity could have on economies. Roughly one quarter of large cities in water stress contain $4.8 trillion (£2.8tn) of economic activity, or 22% of all global economic activity in large cities.