Mark Nicholls is an American hydrogeologist. He leads the water resources service for Haley & Aldrich and works nationwide in the United States on water resources projects with a lot of different professionals. He has been working in this profession for a little over twenty years. We asked the question "What does water represent to you?" to hundreds of people worldwide, and collected various types of answers. We showed the following ones to Mark, and together we tried to better understand our social relationships with water.
20 Questions About Water: What is your first reaction to these testimonies?
Mark Nicholls: I relate to those testimonies. I agree with one gentleman who says water is everything, and another who says water is life. In my world, there is no life where there is not water. I live in the American Southwest, and the history of urban development there is the history of water development. Much of this area is a desert, and without water as well as engineering and scientific means to obtain more water or to develop water sources, these cities wouldn’t exist.
20QAW: How has society’s relationship with water evolved?
M.N.: In my professional experience, the societal relationship with water has evolved quite a bit. Because when we think back to twenty, thirty, or forty years ago, there was far more agriculture in some of the southwestern communities. Those communities, as they’ve grown, now convert that same water into urban use, for homes and businesses, rather than growing crops. This means crops have to be grown some place else, sometimes in another country, sometimes in another region, or sometimes in places where water is scarcer.
“That demands a revaluation of how we use water, what water resources we use, and how we manage the used water as well”
20QAW: In which sectors is water most used currently?
M.N.: In the US, the most water usage by volume is for agriculture. Power generation is probably close behind. Urban water use is growing; human consumption is growing rapidly as well. So Agriculture, power generation, and population, which of course are all connected. The more people there are, the more electricity you need, the more crops you need.
20QAW: How can overuse of water be addressed?
M.N.: The reality in the part of the country I live in is that the population has been growing for many years and it’s expected to continue growing. However, the water resources aren’t growing. That demands a revaluation of how we use water, what water resources we use, and how we manage the used water as well.
“Because we’ve done such a good job making it available, people take it for granted”
20QAW: Why do people tend to neglect the importance of water?
M.N.: Human body is made from 70% water, most people think it just comes from the tap when you turn the knob, when in fact that tap represents millions of dollars worth of infrastructure and development projects to get that water there, make it safe and available for use. But because we’ve done such a good job making it available, people take it for granted.
20QAW: How can experts like yourself help people understand the importance of water?
M.N.: We help people understand the importance of water in the next generation of water resources projects. In the past, there was an abundance of water in some communities that has led to practices that won’t facilitate future growth. So as we grow, we have to change how water is used, and this is one of the things we see with agriculture: lands being converted in urban areas. When you put houses on that farmland, the water use decreases, but the food still has to come from somewhere. The way we do this is educate people and plan for the future.
20QAW: How do you imagine the water situation in a hundred years?
M.N.: We will drink a lot more seawater. You might think water flows downhill, but water really flows towards money, and the more people there are, the more economic resources there are to develop additional water resources. It is basically impossible for an individual to develop a desalination plan, economically speaking. But when you have two million users, and each of them can pay one more nickel a month, or one more dollar a month, you can now build a desalination plant and preserve some of the natural freshwater resources. That will be a trend in the future for sure.