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Front Page » August 8, 2013 » Carbon County News » Drought-stricken industries wilt without water
Published 789 days ago

Drought-stricken industries wilt without water

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While water may be the staff of life for biological creatures, it is also an important component in business in general throughout the world. All one has to do is consider how it affects almost every manufacturer and service in the vast universe of commerce.

In an earlier article in this series we approached the issue of water and electrical production. Water is used to make steam to run turbines in fossil fuel and nuclear plants. It is also used for cooling purposes in nuclear reactors, and an important component in keeping them safe. And of course water runs huge turbines in dams across the nation producing power from the force of gravity causing water to fall. But water shortages for manufacturing go well beyond not having enough power.

Take the auto manufacturing industry for instance. Based on estimates it takes more than 39,000 gallons of water to make a car. How can that be? What in the car manufacturing system requires water? Well, there are lot of things.

Starting with the tires alone, each average tire takes 518 gallons of water to produce. While today's tires have a lot of synthetic materials in them (some of which take water to produce) a lot of natural rubber is also still used in their creation. Rubber comes from two different sources. One from petroleum byproducts (which comes from processes using water) and from rubber trees (Hevea brasiliensis) grown in southeast Asia and South America. These trees are grown in hot, wet climates. Initially they grew only in tropical rain forests where 100 inches of rain or more fell per year. Today they are grown in some climates that are slightly moderate, but they require a lot of water. A drought in such an area could disrupt rubber supplies badly, causing problems for the tire industry which makes an estimated one billion units a year worldwide.

But beyond just the tires almost everything in a car requires water to manufacture. Today there is a lot of plastic of varying kinds and types in vehicles. It is used for everything from dashboards to consoles to seats to bumpers. In the process of making plastic water is used (and through the power that is used to create it as well). For instance to produce a one liter plastic water bottle it takes almost three liters of water.

And of course one of the main things used in any manufacturing process of vehicles is steel. Steel is produced from ore from the earth. When it is extracted it is often washed. The transport of it requires energy which can come from water. Water is also used in the manufacturing process as the ore is refined and steel is made. In the end one ton of steel takes 62,600 gallons of water to produce.

A car is a big object, but most of the products produced for human use rely on water during their manufacturing process. If nothing else the cleaning and washing of materials is a fairly large water user in most manufacturing.

Along these lines it also not only takes a lot of water to grow food, but also to process it. The preparation of food and the packaging of it for modern life is a huge industry. Manufacturing plants that make preprepared food for consumers must have huge amounts of H2O to create their products. It's not unusual for a medium sized plant to use 200,000-300,000 gallons per day in the process, particularly in the cleanup of processing areas. Larger plants use more than this.

Locally water for manufacturing is an important factor in having businesses move to Carbon County.

"We have had a couple of businesses that were seriously thinking about moving here that decided not to because the water resources would have been too tight," said Delynn Fielding in an interview on Tuesday. "Both the major ones I can think of were food preparation. They require a lot of water."

However still percolating on the burner is another business that is considering locating near Wellington that requires a lot of water. The idea of a plant that will create liquid fuel from coal and coal fines is still on the radar. That kind of processing plant would require much more water than food processing (depending on the size of the operation) but there is an answer to that situation which could be worked out. That answer is the effluent from Price River Water Improvement District's water treatment plant in Wellington. That plant turns out anywhere from a million to two million gallons of gray water each day. While that water could not be used for food processing, for fuel manufacture it could work. However there are a lot of other variables that still need to be worked out before such a plant could break ground and go into operation.

Of course another question remains too. If an area such as eastern Utah would have a hard time coming up with water resources for manufacturing plants in good water years, what about in bad ones such as the area has experienced in the last two seasons?

And in such years, what would the water priorities be? Would feeding municipal systems be the priority for very sparse water supplies, or would the power plants and manufacturing take precedent? And what about agriculture, the biggest user of water in the world as well as in eastern Utah?

(Sources: Water quality and waste management, the North Carolina Extension service, USDA, University of Wisconsin Press, U.S. Geological Survey).

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