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The key to success in water use is reuse. The same water is used over and over again in the overall hydrologic cycle, and there are many shorter, internal loops within this global picture of the water cycle. But because man has been increasingly fouling the water he uses, it is often unfit for reuse without extensive, and therefore expensive, treatment. Water that is rendered unfit for consumption by natural causes is usually called "contaminated." Thus water from a well in mineral soil may be highly saline. There is a special 'word to describe man's dirtying of water-pollution. We pollute water in two major ways: with sewage dumped into bodies of water, and with industrial waste water similarly poured into once-pure water. Such pollution inevitably reduces the supply of usable water available to us.
As we might expect, groundwater beneath the oceans, and for some distance inland, is salt and not fresh. Nature maintains a balance and keeps the two separate, but man upsets this balance. For example, in the 1930s canals dredged in Florida permitted the encroachment of salt water, which then began to contaminate the supply of drinking water. In many other places man's earth-moving has cut into impermeable rock strata and let in saline groundwater. Also, by "overdraft," or excessive withdrawal of fresh groundwater, communities have caused further saline encroachment.
Drainage of the Florida Everglades seemed a beneficial plan, but one result was a lowering of the water table, permitting salt water to take over two major fresh-water well fields. One of the useless by-products of oil wells is brine, or saline water. Twenty-eight years of oil production in New Mexico yielded almost 500 million barrels of the valuable fuel. They have also produced more than 500 million barrels of brine. In disposing of this unwanted salt water, oil companies have apparently polluted the fresh-water aquifers in the area.
Far from being a problem only for coastal areas, salt-water encroachment affects many states throughout the country. The 1955 Yearbook of Agriculture gives case histories of such difficulties in thirty-one states. To add to the overall problem, the level of the sea is believed to be rising slowly. Although records are not yet conclusive, it is believed by some authorities that the oceans may be rising at a rate of about two feet a century. While this seems a small amount, it brings with it an associated movement inland of salt groundwater at a rate of from one to four miles per century, according to a geologist in New Jersey. Obviously, this further encroachment will not help matters any.
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