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Quenching one's thirst isn't always easy

Water water everywhere. And not a drop to drink. Those lines come from a famous poem called 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,' written by Samuel Coleridge and published in 1834.

Water water everywhere. And not a drop to drink.

Those lines come from a famous poem called 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,' written by Samuel Coleridge and published in 1834. Basically, one of the sailors shoots an albatross and this brings bad luck, so the ship becomes stranded in the tropics. Then the crew starts to die from a lack of water to drink, even though they are surrounded by an ocean of water. That is because humans can’t drink salt water.

Now here is a little ballpark prediction for you. A person can go three minutes without oxygen, three days without water and three weeks without food. If you don’t believe that then try going without them and see how long you last. Try not eating or drinking anything for three days. You will soon discover that air, water and food are more important than you thought.

On average, a person needs to drink between 2.7 to 3.7 litres of fluid every day. Those are again ballpark numbers because it depends on your size and how much water you are losing through sweat and bodily fluids. Humans also use a lot of water for washing, flushing, watering, and it has industrial uses. If you take the volume of water a city uses in a day and divide it up by the population, then you get a number which is the average water usage per person, per day. For the city of Calgary, they normally use 350 litres of water per person, per day and the population of the area is serviced by city water. Apparently, Calgary and the surrounding area serve 1.25 million people, which means they use approximately four million litres of water every day. That means they use and need a whole lot of water.

In Calgary, the water comes from the rivers and is sent through a water treatment plant, where it is filtered, chemicals are added to make it safe to drink and then it's sent through an elaborate piping system all over the city. Most cities do this even though only a small fraction of the water is actually used for human consumption.

Just try to imagine the big cities in the world and how much water they use. It is amazing and a little scary at the same time. It’s always a little scary when numbers get that big. Recently, a major water line failed and suddenly Calgary’s available water was cut in half, a state of emergency was declared and people were told to cut back on their water usage. They were also told to cut back on washing and watering. They had to, otherwise the city would run out of water.

I am willing to bet that just about every city in Canada gets a few water line breaks in a year. The bigger the city, the more breaks. Even Yellowknife gets them occasionally. Since the water pipeline is buried in the ground, to repair them they have to dig a big hole down to them. A hole with a river of mud and water coming out of it, not an easy job. It’s called a water line, but in Calgary the line is a big concrete tube, big enough that it looks like that you could drive a motorcycle or small car through it. Think of it as an encased underground river.

That is the thing about big infrastructure: once you finish building it then you must maintain it, constantly repair it and eventually replace it. Those are expensive operations, so maybe it's time we rethought some of our projects. Canada has a lot of water, but it also uses a lot of water, so we need to manage it better and we need to look after nature better so we live in a clean and healthy environment. This brings us back to 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.'

The water may be all around us, but we need clean water to drink. We need clean air to breathe and good healthy food. Also don’t shoot an albatross if you are out sailing.