If something doesn't change about the way we rapidly consume water, the world could be in a serious crisis in as little as 16 years, according to a study by CNA Corporation. There are a number of factors contributing to the rapid depletion of this essential resource. The population has grown significantly and the need for water has increased six-fold in the past century. That has also led to greater energy needs and more water-wasting power plants popping up all over the world.
These dirty energy generation resources are the most taxing on the world's water supply, according to the study. They drain about 41 percent of the world's fresh water resources. Should this trend of extreme water use continue, there will be a 40 percent gap between need and supply by 2030.
Fracking, a drilling process used to extract oil and natural gas from underground, is one of the worst offenders. On average it takes 4.4 million gallons of water to frack one well. That's enough water to cover the needs of 11,000 American families for a day or fill six Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Today, there are about 82,000 wells in operation across 17 states. These wells have collectively caused more than 280 billion gallons of unusable, contaminated water waste, according to advocacy group Environment America. To put that in perspective, it's enough water to cover the entire city of Washington, D.C., in a 22-foot-deep toxic pool.
Of course, there are organizations looking for new ways to solve fracking's water problem. These efforts typically focus on developing methods to treat and recycle the chemical-laden water, but a few companies are working toward water-free fracking options.
For now, the most promising option is to expand the use of renewable energy generation. Green energy plants, such as wind farms or solar arrays, don't require water to generate electricity. With enough of these facilities, it could help alleviate the impending water problem.
The CNA study found that Texas' large wind industry actually helped utilities keep the lights on in areas of drought in 2011. The state didn't have the water resources necessary to generate energy at power plants and was able to fall back on the vast renewable energy generation the state built over the past decade.
Had it not been for these alternative sources, the state probably would not have been able to generate enough power and consumers would have had to deal with blackouts. This data suggests that other states could use these resources to help mitigate a water crisis. But action needs to take place today. Wind farms and solar arrays can take years to develop and connect to the power grid.