Water is absolutely essential to life. What's more, it contributes to the wonder and majesty of the natural world, whether through the babbling of a small brook or the vast vista of the open ocean. But where does water come from? How is it stored in nature? There are several key sources of water that are related to one another through the workings of the water cycle.
You might remember learning about the water cycle way back in grade school. This standard process refers to how a drop of water enters our water supply. The cycle begins with water particles rising off the ocean waters. Clouds gather these droplets until reaching the saturation point. Saturation occurs when a cloud catches so many particles that it must release the burden as rain. When clouds move over a landmass, the droplets form rain, ice or snow depending on weather conditions. This water source falls to the earth to enter lakes, rivers and streams. Droplets also become absorbed into the ground to replenish the ground water. Runoff from the earth pushes this water source into our lakes, rivers and streams and eventually back into the ocean to begin the cycle again.
Rivers and Lakes
Water authorities use rivers and lakes as a standard source of water for human consumption. These sources tend to be replenished regularly by weather events. We can't drink this water directly out of the water body without additional treatment. Water treatment plants pump water into their facilities, filtering and adding chemicals to purify the water. This safe, natural source of water then travels through water mains to homes across the area for individual home water use.
Think back again to grade school and dig for tidbits of information about groundwater. Groundwater lies in pockets beneath the surface of the earth. This natural water supply typically exists between layers of rock. Individuals without access to a municipal water supply often tap this natural water source for wells. The water cycle replenishes groundwater tables at a relatively predictable rate based on climate. In times of drought, groundwater levels can be seriously affected, so many municipalities carefully monitor water tables to assure water availability to residents.
Desalination takes abundant seawater and removes the salt from the water. This process involves the removal of additional minerals as well. Huge processing plants around the world convert seawater to potable water suitable for human consumption. Middle Eastern countries rely on many desalination plants for their water supply. This type of natural water source conversion requires extensive treatment and the expensive use of electricity to run the water processing plants.
It might surprise you to realize that you have a natural water source right at home. Your roof and downspouts offer you the perfect opportunity to collect and store rainwater for use around the exterior of your home. Typical rainwater harvesting setups include a barrel attached to the downspouts on your roof. More elaborate collection devices include flat, sloped sections of the roof designed to collect more rainwater per square inch. The rainwater runs at an angle toward a collection point, funneling water into a catch basin. Rainwater harvesting is a common practice in the more arid regions of the world. This non-potable source of water helps defer costs of using a potable water supply for watering crops and general landscape maintenance.