Featured Article: “The World Can Make More Water From the Sea, but at What Cost?”
The issue of water quantity and quality is increasingly a global problem. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, over 80 percent of the world is covered in water, but only 3 percent is fresh water. As more places face water scarcity, desalination is seen as a possible answer. However, energy and financial requirements limit how widely that process can be used.
In this lesson, students will explore the issue of water access, examine how desalination presents a potential solution, and finally, weigh the costs and benefits of various approaches to water scarcity.
Do you have access to clean and safe water? How concerned are you about access to quality water now or in the future?
Do you believe that your family, and Americans in general, use water wisely? Or do you think we take this vital resource for granted?
Before reading, look at the graph below and answer the following questions:
What do you notice?
What do you wonder? What are you curious about that comes from what you notice in the graph?
What story does the graph tell? Write a catchy headline that captures its main idea. If your headline makes a claim, tell us what you noticed that supports your claim.
Questions for Writing and Discussion
Read the article, then answer the following questions:
1. Scroll through the photos in the article: What do you notice? Which image stands out to you and why? What story do these photos tell?
2. The article begins, “Desalinated seawater is the lifeblood of Saudi Arabia, no more so than at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.” Why did Henry Fountain, the author, start by describing the water uses of one university? How does this single institution illustrate the needs of the entire country?
3. How big a problem is water quality and quantity globally? What are the major causes of water scarcity worldwide?
4. What challenges do Saudi Arabia and other countries face in making desalination affordable and sustainable? In what ways are engineers and researchers addressing these challenges?
5. In your own words, describe the desalination process. Explain reverse osmosis.
6. How is Saudi Arabia’s effort to find renewable and sustainable water sources linked to finding sustainable energy sources?
7. What is your reaction to the article? What was most interesting, surprising or provocative to you? How does this article alter your opinion of the way you, your family and your community use water? What responsibility do we all have to using water responsibility?
Imagine you are a member of local government in one of the high water-stress locations identified on the map in the warm-up activity. Should you invest in desalination technology? What factors would you consider? What are the pros and cons of using desalination to solve the problem of water scarcity?
As part of your analysis, consider whether other possible solutions might be more desirable, such as changing individual water consumption patterns, recycling sewage into drinking water, combating water pollution, increasing agricultural efficiency, investing in green infrastructure and taxing water use?
(You can find more information on the countries facing water stress in “A Quarter of Humanity Faces Looming Water Crises.”)
What would you recommend?