STEM news – Great Lakes Water

Stem News 042315What a week it’s been!  I can’t wait to tell you about it tomorrow on Big Accomplishment Friday!  For tonight, I wanted to start our series of STEM in the news.  In this section, I’d like to pull a story or two from the news every week and talk about how it relates back to STEM.  When I came up with the idea for this website, Mr. Sci Guy really liked that angle.  In honor of him, we’re going to talk about this news story he came across the other night.

We were shocked by some of the numbers in it, along with all the political considerations that go along with water.  The article discusses the major drought in California, and whether the Great Lakes can be a potential source of water for California.  A lot of the discussion is business and politics – who ‘owns’ the water, and who is entitled to use the water, and who reports their usage to what agency?  Toward the end of the article, they get into exactly how much water we’re talking about – this is where the STEM comes in.

Would you believe that we use 42.4 BILLION gallons of water a day?  That is so much, except that 40.1 billion of those gallons are returned back to the Great Lakes.  Only 2.3 billion gallons are lost every day ( ‘only’).  This still seemed like a lot of water to me, except that apparently, the Great Lakes contain 6.5 QUADRILLION gallons (the article points out for those of us who don’t use quadrillions on a regular basis that this is the same as 6.5 million billion gallons – wow!!).  That is 20% of all the surface fresh water on the entire Earth.

Amazing view of the dam from the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

Amazing view of the dam from the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

Living in Michigan, this article is very relevant to us, but it also caught our attention because we visited the Hoover Dam on a recent trim to Las Vegas.  If you haven’t been there, you should!  It is absolutely incredible.  At the time it was designed, some people thought it was crazy, and obviously there were very strong opinions both for and against building the dam.

#thisisMYstem selfie from the top of the Hoover Dam

#thisisMYstem selfie from the top of the Hoover Dam

The dam couldn’t be poured as a single unit, so it was poured in ‘small’ (if you call 50 square ft x 5 ft tall ‘small’) forms.  Each form had piping built in to pump cooled water through the concrete to help it set quicker.  It took over THREE MILLION cubic yards of concrete to build the dam, and almost two years just to pour the concrete.  Not only that, before any concrete was ever poured, the entire river had to be diverted around the dam site.  That’s really dam incredible!! (sorry, I couldn’t resist!)  The inner workings of the dam and power generation are also fascinating – when you go, take the tour!

Turbines inside the dam

Turbines inside the dam

So it seems I’ve gone off on a tangent – but I promise, I’m moving toward a point.  The Hoover Dam (and other dams too) was created to help control the flow of water through California and Mexico.  At the time it was a monumental feat of engineering, and it is still considered one of the engineering wonders of the modern world.  It provides controlled access to water to a huge portion of the southwest – and the money made from the power generated by the plant paid for the entire cost of construction in just a few years.  So is it really out of the question to consider whether we could engineer a way to send water from the Great Lakes to California?  Do you think it’s possible?  Is the water a ‘common’ resource, or is it owned by a specific entity?  It’s an interesting problem to think about – from the both the STEM side, and the political side.

What do you think about all of this?

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