Passwords: Unchangeable laws govern water quality, use

It’s interesting to coin a new word.

A number of years ago, Dr. Joe Rossillon, the former president of the Freshwater Foundation, and I were discussing a column I had written regarding thermodynamics and its two laws pertaining to the quantity and quality of energy.

While we kicked the subject back and forth, it occurred to us the very principles used in the relatively well known subject of

Dick Gray

thermodynamics could also be applied to water.  We dreamed up “aquadynamics.”

I would define aquadynamics as the study of the relationships among the origin, use, change and preservation of water.  I would further state there are three general laws of aquadynamics:

The First Law:  In general, the water we have is all the water we’re going to get.  In other words, the first law deals with quantity.

The Second Law:  In general, as water is used it tends to revert to a poorer or less desirable form.  Therefore, the second law deals with quality.

:  As water is life, the preservation of life is dependent upon the quantity and quality of water.  This law deals with use.

The living kingdom on earth must have water to survive.  Where there is water, there is life.  Where there is no water, no life.  Where there is unusable water, there is little or no life.  Therefore, water must be present and in a usable form in sufficient quantity for there to be life.  That’s a simple statement of such apparent truth that it is easy to overlook.

The First Law of Aquadynamics includes the general statement:  Water is neither created nor destroyed; the water in existence today is all the water the world has with which to survive.  It’s true some water is being “made” someplace all of the time, but the quantity is a grain of sand on the ocean’s beach.

Volcanoes spew primitive or newly manufactured water during eruptions; oxygen and hydrogen are combined to form water in such a mundane place as your fireplace – and your body.

Water can be “made” in the laboratory with ease.  Yet the immense quantities of water in the world today are, in essence, the same quantities the world has always had.  What we have is what we get.  For all practical purposes, the quantity of water is fixed — and that’s a law.

The Second Law of Aquadynamics can be phrased:  No matter how much water there may be, if it isn’t usable it might as well be absent.  With so much water in the world, it’s hard to imagine there being no water to use.  Yet the vast majority of the world’s water is in the oceans — salty, geographically limited, unusable for all general purposes.  The vast majority of the freshwater in the world is locked up in polar ice caps, in glaciers, geographically limited, unusable for all general purposes.

What is left to live with is a tiny fraction of the world’s freshwater —  about 3%.  For most things, this fraction is fleeting, unpredictable.  Its form keeps changing — ice, snow, vapor, rushing liquid — and its availability likewise changes.  The point is:  There may be a lot of water, but if the quality or usable character of the water isn’t proper, the water is useless and life cannot exist in the presence of the unusable form.

The Third Law of Aquadynamics is a direct result of the first two laws.  There must be a proper balance of the quantity and quality of water for life to exist.  Without quality the quantity is useless.  Without quantity, there can be no quality.  With both quantity and quality present, it is up to Us  to use the water properly for life to continue.  If we squander the quantity or destroy the quality, we are determining our fate as surely as if we had neither to begin with.

Water problems of today are severe and growing.  The world’s population is increasing, demand on water supplies is increasing, areas of concentrated use — like big cities — are compounding water problems.  Millions are affected by droughts; the slightest alteration in rainfall patterns causes reservoir levels to drop; use by industry or agriculture spoils the quality.

We have the energy equivalent of billions of barrels of oil locked up in oil and gas shale in the western portions of the United States, but immense quantities of water are needed to mine the shale, and the West can make a case there isn’t enough water for that.  The quantity of water is missing.

Coal slurry methods, efficient and cheap to move coal from here to there, are criticized because the after-water is polluted.  The quality of water is missing.

It seems no matter what we “need” to do to solve so many of our major problems, we bump into water, its misuse, the problems of relocation of the water, the waste of it, the dumping of it, the awful throwing away of a precious resource.

With water a limited resource, and with an ever-growing demand on this resource, it only makes sense this resource must be husbanded, treated with tender, loving care.  Laws are laws, and the laws of aquadynamics are inflexible in the main. Man is the one who must be flexible in the grand scheme of things. We must recognize the quantity, quality and use factors regarding water and freshwater in particular.  Respect the Laws of Aquadynamics. With them we live; violating them we’re through.

Water is life, and life dictates proper quality, quantity and the use of water.

This column by Dick Gray is adapted and reprinted from one he wrote in 1981. It appears in his book Open Season.