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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mother Earth, Water, and All Life

The Desk and Derrick Club has provided 60 years of service to members and the energy industry.  They are a non-profit organization for almost 2,500 individuals employed in or affiliated with the petroleum, energy and allied industries, and they have 60 clubs in 7 regions throughout the United States and Canada.  It is their goal to enhance and foster a positive image to the global community by promoting the contribution of the petroleum, energy and allied industries through education by using all resources available.

I was honored to be the keynote speaker for their 60th Anniversary event at the Desk and Derrick Club of Edmonton.  What an amazing group; very well organized and run with the efficiency of a Swiss watch.  It was a thrill to represent the Leduc #1 Energy Discovery Centre at their anniversary celebration.  Having been afforded the opportunity to speak four times at club and regional meetings, I have now come to know so many of these remarkable people.  I remain honored by their gracious invitations.

Our topic was water, and the topic of fresh water conservation seems to grow in global significance each day.  The Earth and all life upon it would not exist without water.  The majority of cells in the bodies of all living creatures and plants contain water.  Equally important to all life on Earth is the fact that water reduces the fluctuation of global temperatures, allowing our planet to sustain life.  Water protects all life both aquatic and land based, it covers over 70% of the Earth.  Without it, all forms of life would forever vanish from the Earth.  To say that water is important cannot possibly be overstated.  It is the very foundation upon which all life is built, sustained, and nourished.  In fact, all fresh water on earth, if it were shaped as a sphere, would look quite small. 

Throughout history, humans have traditionally settled near sources of fresh water.  Ancient civilizations, such as the Anasazi of the desert southwest, focused great amounts of time and energy in order to construct cliff dwellings near water sources.  Their engineering feats were magnificent, their creation of aqueducts and agricultural efficiencies unparalleled as was the brilliance of their site selections which leveraged gravitational water flow to nourish their corn, squash, and other plantings.

Fast forward through the centuries and mankind, for the most part, still settles near sources of freshwater.  Yet we often take that water for granted, assuming somehow, that there will always be plenty.  I suppose mankind is lulled into the thought that water is so plentiful because the vast majority of our planet is covered in water.  We see tremendous glaciers, and mountains covered with snowpack that melts each year and fills our rivers.

A closer examination of the facts, however, clearly demonstrates a different reality.  The first fact that is somewhat startling is that of all the global water, only 2.5% is fresh water.  Of the 2.5% or global fresh water, nearly 69% is locked in glaciers and ice caps, the majority located in Antarctica and Greenland.  Groundwater accounts for about 30% of the global fresh water supply, while surface water accounts for slightly over 1% of the global supply.  The drill down on surface water reveals that about 73% comes from ice and snow, much of it running into our rivers during the Spring melt.  Lakes, such as the Great Lakes and the millions of other smaller lakes, contain about 20% of the water.  Swamps and marshes account for about 2.5% and rivers less than a half a percent.  The remainder derived from biological and atmospheric water.  In summary, the importance of protecting and managing our freshwater resources is a paramount consideration for Alberta, for Canada, and for the entire global community.

Alberta is moving forward with a strategy called Water for Life.  To understand and monitor groundwater, Alberta monitors shallow, intermediate, and deep wells across the province.  Data regarding these wells may be acquired by the public at: http://www3.gov.ab.ca/env/water/gwsw/quantity/waterdata/gwdatafront.asp

In Alberta, approximately two million people get their drinking water from large municipal systems; many obtain potable water from smaller water treatment plants.  Others obtain their water from private systems such as wells, water co-ops or by hauling.  The supply of fresh water is plentiful in many places, but the southern part of Alberta already has shortage issues.  More than a half a million hectares of land are cultivated and irrigated via 13 irrigation districts which share water across municipalities and for agricultural production.  In fact, more than 40% of all fresh water use in Alberta goes toward growing the food products we consume to sustain life.  As such, the Government of Alberta began focusing resources towards the goal of water conservation precisely in the part of our province where it is most critical.

Alberta also has obligations to provide certain amounts of water to Montana and Saskatchewan due to apportionment agreements.  Essentially, the apportion agreement with Saskatchewan insures that half of the water in each of the shared, major river basins, must be allowed to flow into Saskatchewan.  A similar agreement exists with the state of Montana because some watersheds flow from Montana into Alberta and then back again to the headwaters of the Missouri and Mississippi watershed.  Few people recognize these agreements are in place.  As such, it is incumbent on all of us to conserve and protect our water supplies because they have an impact on many people across our region, and in fact, the ramifications are global.

Continental drainage is a concept unfamiliar to many as a science, but most of us know intrinsically that our water flows to certain areas.  Alberta is particularly interesting because the flow of our water reaches the Water drainage flows to several different areas due to the geographical location of Alberta.  In the far south, the Milk River Basin drains to the Missouri – Mississippi, farther north it drains to the Hudson Bay and about half of Alberta’s water drainage flows to the Mackenzie Delta and into the Arctic.

In fact, the Mackenzie Delta is such an enormous water resource that it is the 3rd largest watershed on Earth and contains approximately 1/3 of Canada’s fresh water supply.  At the Desk & Derrick Club, we discussed these topics.  Being the curious people they are, always on a quest for knowledge, I gave pause to admire the purpose of their club and the kindness of their people.  The inquisitive mind is always healthy and abundant in thought. 
The pursuit of education can be summed up in many ways.  I would choose to leave you with this thought.

It is in fact a part of the function of education to help us escape, not from our own time -- for we are bound by that -- but from the intellectual and emotional limitations of our time.

T.S. Eliot

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