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Not just oil: US hit peak water in 1970 and nobody noticed
Written by Daniel   
Tuesday, 25 May 2010 18:18

From ArsTechnica

The concept of peak oil, where the inaccessibility of remaining deposits ensures that extraction rates start an irreversible decline, has been the subject of regular debate for decades. Although that argument still hasn't been settled—estimates range from the peak already having passed us to its arrival being 30 years in the future—having a better sense of when we're likely to hit it could prove invaluable when it comes to planning our energy economy. The general concept of peaking has also been valuable, as it applies to just about any finite resource. A new analysis suggests that it may be valuable to consider applying it to a renewable resource as well: the planet's water supply.


The analysis, performed by staff at the Pacific Institute, recognizes that there are some significant differences between petroleum and water. For oil, using it involves a chemical transformation that won't be reversed except on geological time scales. Using water often leaves it in its native state, with a cycle that returns it to the environment in a geologic blink of an eye. Still, the authors make a compelling argument that, not only can there be a peak water, but the US passed this point around 1970, apparently without anyone noticing.

They make their case based on three ways in which water can run up against limits on its use. The first is peak renewable water, for sources that rapidly replenish, like river basins or snow melt. The classic example here is the Colorado River where, for most years since 1960, essentially no water has reached the ocean. Although actual water use is governed by a series of interstate and international agreements, these simply serve to allocate every drop of water. Similar situations are taking place in other river basins, such as the Jordan.

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