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60-Second Earth

Will There Be Enough Water?

Water demands continue to inch up year after year even as climate change queers supply. Can civilization cope? David Biello reports

Some 2.5 billion gallons of water are used to frack oil or gas wells in the U.S. Every day. Nearly all of that water is lost, either in the fracking or by disposing it down a borehole. And industry's water consumption is dwarfed by agriculture, responsible for more than 80 percent of this country's enormous water use.

With climate change beginning to affect water supplies, what can be done?

A panel at the recent Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy summit attempted to answer that question. In agriculture, it will take both better breeding—for more water efficient crops—and smarter irrigation. Our power plants could send less steam into the sky with hybrid air-and-water cooling systems. And local, state and federal governments could begin to reform an often hidebound water rights system. Not to mention that we'd all better get comfortable with the idea of reusing water over and over again.

On the other hand, as a new $1 billion facility rising on the California coast may prove, maybe we just need to increase the water supply. The Poseidon desalination plant aims to turn seawater into hundreds of thousands of gallons of freshwater annually. The only problem is: it's expensive and it requires a lot of energy. And producing energy requires water, which requires energy to clean, which, well, lather, rinse, repeat.

—David Biello

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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