A Drop of Dihydrogen Monoxide With Your Whisky?

A Drop of Dihydrogen Monoxide With Your Whisky?

‘Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.’

W. H. Auden, ‘First Things First’ (1956)

The Western Cape’s weather patterns seem to have reverted to some form of normality, after a period of dry winters. The drought of 2016 and its threat of ‘Day Zero’ when supplies of that precious substance water were set to run dry in our taps was one of the more scary events of our 21st century lifestyle. It was not helped by the prognostications of a raft of experts who all gloomily announced that this was the ‘new normal’, and that the next heavy rainfall could possibly be expected during the 22nd century, if we were lucky. Citizens were facing the possibility of long queues for a few precious litres, and too little, too late was the order of the day as far as the authorities were concerned as various panicked measures were considered to alleviate the problem.

Water is precious. It’s the main constituent of all known living organisms.

But all is well in 2022. The cold Cape winters returned, the rain came blustering in with the north-westerly winds, and predictably the grumbles reverted to ‘when will this rain stop?’ Water is precious. It’s the main constituent of all known living organisms, despite being an inorganic, transparent, tasteless, odourless, and nearly colourless chemical substance. The really odd thing about water is that without it, life could not exist (on planet Earth at least), despite the fact that it provides neither food, energy, nor organic micronutrients. It’s main function is as a universal solvent, and in this capacity it does a magnificent job. Two sugars in that tea, madam?

These thoughts on water have been generated by comments from Waterfront Charters  home, the V&A Waterfront, who recently announced that since 2010 they had reduced water consumption by 61%. Given that this is  ‘World Water Week’, this announcement is to be applauded. Unlike a lot of other institutions these stringent savings were not a response to the drought; they were a carefully planned and implemented knowing that water saving is going to be an all-important aspect of life from now on. As the V&A put it, ‘highlighting the vital role that water plays in all our lives, as well as finding ways to preserve it.’

We tend to forget how little usable water there actually is on our Blue Planet.  96.5% of all water is saline, and this covers 71% of the earth. Desalinating is an option, but it is very high in energy usage, which means that the trade-off to remove the salts is not workable unless you have cheap power. Which we don’t; ask Eskom. Those monstrous icecaps that are threatening to melt and flood coastal cities hold a mere 1.7% of the water, equal to all the fresh groundwater above and below the surface (think those mighty rivers like the Ganges, Amazon and Mississippi) at 1.7% as well. What about the rain, you ask? Good question. All the atmospheric water, clouds, vapour, ice, snow and rain amounts to … 0.001% of water on earth. That is not a misprint, there are no digits missing: one thousandth on one percent. Now do you see why water conservation is so important and why we applaud the V&A Waterfronts efforts?

Another aspect to consider regarding our supplies of fresh water: it’s not just to keep humans hydrated, or to add to your scotch. Estimates vary, but around 80 to 90% of total fresh water consumption is through irrigation – no water, no crops; no crops, no grub. We don’t only need water to drink; it’s an absolute necessity in the generation of food too. Remember: we are playing with 1% of all water available once you add up all freshwater resources. With a burgeoning population, this is putting enormous pressures on all governments to gear up conservation. Resources from groundwater, glaciers and icecaps are diminishing, and this also puts pressure on the rain-cycle: these resources are nor being recharged as rain water gets used by humans. 2.8 billion people live in areas experiencing economic water scarcity as per the International Water Management Institute in 2007; this figure is already a lot higher – as is the world’s population, not assisted by the fact that the greatest increase in births is in these water scarce regions. Go figure.

We’ll leave you with some thought provoking statistics: one pair of jeans requires 10.9 cubic metres of water to grow the cotton, and you can’t eat blue jeans. (Cotton uses 2.4% of all fresh water on the planet.) There may, however, be a long term solution: 12 billion light years from Earth astronomers have found a quasar that contains about ‘140 trillion times more water than all of Earth’s oceans combined’.  Now all we have to do is fetch it.

Waterfront Charters utilises the salty version of Earth’s water supply to provide guests with wonderful experiences, but we are fully behind all measures that look to preserving the fluid that gives life. Join us for a relaxing cruise on the Atlantic under the gaze of Table Mountain, and remind yourself of S T Coleridge’s lament ‘Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink…’