Category Archives: Oceans

Chile May Make Miners Use Desalinated Water

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Chuquicamata copper mine, by Owen Cliffe

With communities in Chile’s Atacama Desert — one of the world’s driest — competing with copper mines for dwindling water supplies, some of the country’s lawmakers have submitted a bill that would force mining companies to use desalinated Pacific Ocean water, according to reports in Bloomberg and Mining.com.

A statement from Chile’s Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the National Congress, calls for mining companies that use 150 liters (40 gallons) of water per second to begin using desalinated water in order to preserve freshwater for other uses.  Some mining companies already use desalinated water, others don’t. There is no word yet on when the upper house, the Senate, will address the legislation.

One third of the world’s copper supplies comes from Chile, and one third of the Chilean government’s revenue comes from copper exports — making mining one of the country’s most important industries as well as one of its biggest users of water. According to a report in BNamericas, the industry’s need for water is expected to increase by 38 % by 2021.

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Filed under Desalination, Industry, Law, Oceans, South America, Water Shortage

Water, Water Everywhere: New Resources Updates

At the Waterline is still a new blog, with fresh information pages still being added. The Water Resources page doesn’t say “coming soon” anymore — it has actual resources! It’s a list, in alphabetical order, of agencies and media sources concerned with water issues. It’s a work in progress, so be sure to check on it from time to time.  Go there.

A Water Facts page is still, ahem, “coming soon.”

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Filed under Agriculture, Blog Changes and Updates, Climate Change, Environment, Groundwater, NGOs, Oceans, Research, Rivers and Watersheds, Sustainability, United Nations, Water Resources

Study Describes Vast Reserves of Water Under Ocean Floors

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Image: David Snow

On the very day I was beginning to put together this blog, Dec. 5, the journal Nature published a new study by a group of Australian researchers that may seem to negate any need for another blog about the looming global water crisis.

The study, Offshore fresh groundwater reserves as a global phenomenon, finds that fresh and brackish water deposits under oceans are much more common, and much more vast, than previously thought.  The research team estimates that the reserves amount to 120,000 cubic miles of water.

“The volume of this water resource is a hundred times greater than the amount we’ve extracted from the Earth’s sub-surface in the past century since 1900,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Vincent Post, said in a statement. He and his team are at of the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training and the School of the Environment at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia.

Post explained that the oceans are at much higher surface levels today than they were 20,000 years ago, when polar ice caps began to melt, adding water volume over time. What was once ground has aquifers filled with groundwater underneath. These aquifers, though underneath large bodies of salt water, are otherwise similar to the ones under dry land that are being depleted all over the world.

So, if there’s so much more water out there than we thought, why should I continue to study it as a precious and finite resource that could cause more global conflict than oil in the coming decades? Because of what lies between these massive reserves of water and their ability to sustain people and communities: complex infrastructure and high costs. As Post and his team point out, the water will have to be pumped from ocean platforms or facilities on nearby dry land. That, plus the need for desalination, make getting the water where it’s needed, in a drinkable state, a tall order. On the plus side, as the study indicates, the water is not as salty as seawater, so the desalination is that much less energy-intensive.

After all is said and done, however, this massive “new” resource is still finite. As Post noted, aquifers under oceans won’t be refilled with new groundwater until the oceans recede again, “which is not likely to happen for a very long time.” (Possibly a bit of understatement, that.)

Read more about the study and its implications.

UPDATE: Offshore fresh water aquifers: Which law will apply? – International Water Law Project Blog

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Filed under Desalination, Groundwater, Oceans, Research, Technology, Water Shortage