Blog Post 2: Water

Three Forms of Peak Water

Water is the building block of life. Although fossil fuels are important, it is impossible for humanity to survive without water. “Peak Water” is a concept associated with the availability of water and how sustainably managed water is becoming limited all over the world. It might seem like water is as abundant as always considering that sinks, sprinklers and water parks are still running, but “constraints on water resources are appearing, raising questions about ultimate limits to water availability. In some parts of the world, including the U.S., the demand for water is outstripping the supply, causing political disputes and economic uncertainty, and raising the specter of ‘peak water’.” [Gleick] Peak water does not mean that the world is going to run out of water, but it is becoming more difficult economically, environmentally and physically to obtain fresh water. Peak water has been broken down into three categories depending on the situation: where the water is located and what exactly is depleting that source of water. These three concepts are peak renewable water, peak non-renewable water, and peak ecological water.

Peak renewable water is made up of renewable water sources, such as groundwater basins, rivers, streams and rainfall [these are natural watersheds]. Although these points of water supply are considered renewable, that does not mean that they are boundless. “Each watershed only has a certain amount of renewable water supply that is replenished every year.” [Palaniappan & Gleick]

Watersheds only have a certain amount of water that can naturally be renewed yearly. Over time if a certain watershed is over consumed or tampered with physically or chemically, it can eventually become nonrenewable.

Peak nonrenewable waters are watersheds that are used substantially, but come from sources that are essentially nonrenewable. These include groundwater aquifers that are very slow at replenishing and eventually are over-pumped and lose their ability to regain water. These aquifers become overused or polluted, making them nonrenewable. Continuing to overuse these sources of water eventually causes economic challenges to attaining water from that same source. Getting the water becomes difficult and expensive “leading to a peak of production, followed by diminishing withdrawals and use.”  [Palaniappan & Gleick]This graph shows the ultimate peak of rising water production over time. Overburdening these systems becomes costly and in times of need can make water that much more scarce.

The last form of peak water is peak ecological water. This peak does not necessarily have to do with running out of water so much as it has to do with causing irreversible ecological damages overtime due to overconsumption of water. Water is essential not only to plants and animals, but also ecosystems. When we humans remove water from an ecosystem, even temporarily, it takes away vital sources of water from that ecosystem. This peak is simple, in that if you take from one source; others that relied on that source, such as plants and animals, have less water to implement into their lives.

All of these peaks are happening all over the world and eventually will bring the cost of water into question. We are fortunate to not really pay for water (the resource) here in America, but if it becomes too burdensome to reach the water we need, we will start feeling those costs. 

Gleick, P. (n.d.). Is the U.S. Reaching Peak Water? – Forbes. Information for the World’s Business Leaders – Retrieved September 12, 2011, from

Palaniappan, M., & Gleick, P. (2010). Peak water limits to freshwater withdrawal and use.National academy of Sciences,107(25), 11155–11162. Retrieved September 12, 2011, from

Power, M. (n.d.). Peak Water: Aquifers and Rivers Are Running Dry. How Three Regions Are Coping . Retrieved September 12, 2011, from

Robert B. Jackson, Stephen R. Carpenter, Clifford N. Dahm, Diane M. McKnight, Robert J. Naiman, Sandra L. Postel and Steven W. Running. Water in a Changing World.Ecological Applications
Vol. 11, No. 4 (Aug., 2001), pp. 1027-1045

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