Science 25 August 2006: Vol. 313. no. 5790, pp. 1088 – 1090
DOI: 10.1126/science.313.5790.1088

Desalination Freshens Up, by Robert F. Service
Efforts to provide clean, fresh water for the world’s inhabitants seem to be moving in the wrong direction. According to the World Health Organization, 1 billion people do not have access to clean, piped water. A World Resources Institute analysis adds that 2.3 billion people–41% of Earth’s population–live in water-stressed areas, a number expected to climb to 3.5 billion by 2025. To make matters worse, global population is rising by 80 million a year, and with it the demand for new sources of fresh water.

    missing freshwater

The Yukon-Kuskowkim Rivers Delta, in the Bethel area, is a semi-arid region with generally 15 inches or less of precipitation per year. When last I checked, Bethel has about as much precipitation as Los Alamos, New Mexico in the high “desert”, including snow (54 inches).

The Kuskokwim Delta is aggrading (sinking or eroding away) instead of accreting (gaining sediment and area) as is the Yukon Delta. Unfortunately, I cannot find on-line the specific data and reports for the accretion or degrading status, nor analyses of possible causes. (If a reader knows this, please let the rest of us know.)

For at least a decade, the tundra ponds on the Kuskowkim delta have been disappearing—

  • they may be sinking (the permafrost holding them up may be disappearing. Last year nearby ponds look like a bathtub with the plug pulled)
  • the land may be rising (but we haven’t had the weight of glaciers above us in the past)
  • the pattern of precipitation may have changed (more occurs in warmer months which may result in more evaporation)
  • the amount of precipitation may have decreased
  • people use much more water (especially on piped systems)
  • there are many more people using water
  • sea level may be changing (fresh water floats on top of salt water)

No matter the cause, we do not seem to have now, and will likely not have for the next generation, sufficient water clean enough for essential uses.