The “Drinking Water Cycle” is Right

by Michael J. McGuire

Blogs are not supposed to suggest solutions.  All blogs have to do is rail against something and get folks stirred up.  This is so.  It’s in the blogger’s manual somewhere.

A funny thing happened after I posted the blog “All Water Cycle Diagrams are Wrong.”  I started getting comments here and at several LinkedIn Groups, and a couple of ideas surfaced.  Several people noted that water cycles are just supposed to depict how water moves in the environment, and they can’t include all the details of water contamination and water treatment.  Ok, but my point was that many of the water cycles incorrectly link pure water moving through the cycle directly to the glass of water that you drink.  Other water cycles note that treatment is needed to purify water because of contamination but treatment is not actually shown in the typical water cycle.  I have looked at hundreds of them, and you have to believe me that none of them do a good job at this.

The thought came to me that we needed a separate cycle—one that interacted with the typical water cycle.  I sketched it out and called it the “Drinking Water Cycle.”  One of the commenters, Loretta Dionisio who is a hydrogeologist with Nassau County Public Works, suggested that we call the typical, water cycle the “Natural Water Cycle.”  Now, I think we are getting somewhere.  Here is the DWC showing drinking water being extracted from a simple version of the NWC and returned to the NWC as treated wastewater:

As I have mentioned, there are hundreds of water cycles on the Internet.  While some of them choose to show really simple changes in the form of water, others show more complex interactions, such as the U.S. Geological Survey NWC.  Pairing the DWC with the USGS NWC would look something like this:

Now teachers can link what students actually experience—getting a glass of water to drink from the kitchen tap—and relate it to the Natural Water Cycle.  They can also explain why the DWC is broken.  Few professionals think that direct potable reuse of wastewater is a good idea (Singapore is an exception).  Teachers can explain that wastewater after it has been properly treated is released back into the NWC to further purify it.  Teachers can still say that the water we drink was once dinosaur pee—a big hit with nine-year-olds.

The only problem is that I am not happy with my digital scribblings–we need a better graphic.  Here is your chance to get involved in the design of the new water cycle.  I will donate $50 to Water For People in the name of the person who creates the coolest, most clever Drinking Water Cycle that we can use as part of further discussions on this.  I will post the winning entry onto Wikimedia Commons, which will make it available for anyone to use.  Come on you engineers and scientists.  Get your T-squares and french curves out and make something beautiful.

Thanks to everyone who participated in these discussions.  For me, this is the first time that one of the discussions on LinkedIn has been useful.  Mostly, the “discussions” are used to push one product or another.  Or, a spammer puts up an item that tells me I can work at home and earn big bucks.  That spammer should know that bloggers work at home, but they never earn big bucks.

About safedrinkingwaterdotcom

McGuire is an environmental engineer and writer. He has worked in the drinking water community for over 40 yrs
This entry was posted in Information, Opinion and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The “Drinking Water Cycle” is Right

  1. Amy Lomax says:

    Hi Mike

    I suggest you check out some of the posters from DERM and Waterwise Queensland Australia…perhaps some of these may give you ideas? They try to cover the Total Water Cycle.

    Good Luck!

  2. Thanks, Amy. I took a look at the cycles and they have a lot of good points. They also have the same problem as others I have seen–too complicated. I still do not know how to strike the balance between enough information and a too complicated picture that a child could understand. These graphics are helpful to the overall conversation.


  3. Lynn Seto says:

    Hi Mike,
    Has anyone created the winning drinking water cycle diagram yet? I am teaching the water cycle to 6th graders and would love to have it. Didn’t see it on Wiki… Thanks!

  4. Lynn Seto says:

    Mike- That’s too bad. Some of my students want to take up the challenge. If you’re willing, I would love to email you a copy of the notes they took in class to see if they would be on the right track for what you are looking for. My email is I can send the attachment that way? Thanks

  5. I received a wonderful email from Cindy Powell and her Girl Scout troop thanking me for the links page on the website. They also provided me with a link to a web page that has numerous examples of traditional water cycles. I hope that my readers will visit this link where they will find helpful information:

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