The issues around world water quality and supply are complex and remedial solutions similarly complicated. They are also profoundly heart rending. For many people in the water rich regions of the world, the urgency is difficult to comprehend. The impact is felt more profoundly as economic loss rather than loss of life. But it is loss nevertheless.

A Threat to Humankind. Water pollution is a major global problem—arguably the leading worldwide cause of death and disease accounting for the deaths of more than 14,000 people daily. According to the World Water Council, 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water and 2.6 billion people lack adequate sanitation. 1.8 million people die every year from diarrheal diseases, including 90% of children under the age of five. This urgent situation is only worsening.

No Country Immune. While water issues are acute in developing countries, the industrialized world struggles with water pollution problems as well. In 2007, the US Environmental Protection Agency reported that of the water bodies assessed, 45% of stream miles, 47% of lake acres, and 32% of bay and estuarine square miles were classified as polluted.

In the U.S., agriculture is the primary cause of water quality impairment. Forty-three percent of the U.S. population has suffered pathogen contamination in drinking water caused by concentrated livestock feeding operations. According to the Pew Environment Group, the failure of certain livestock waste lagoons has been compared to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in terms of catastrophic environmental damage. Harmful algae blooms, caused by municipal, industrial and agricultural runoffs also produce sometimes deadly toxins.

In 2008, some 93 Canadian First Nations communities lived with boil-water advisories or “Do Not Consume” orders—the situation continues despite media attention.

“Water receives less attention than other environmental issues, such as the climate and pollution, but the problem of water scarcity is at least as important—and, arguably, more pressing—than that of global warming,”( Financial Times, December 2008) adding that “a rising global population, industrialization, pollution, and climate change itself are all putting fresh-water supplies under strain.” [1]