Water Facts

1.     Water's chemical formula is H2O - one atom of oxygen bound to two atoms of hydrogen. The hydrogen atoms are "attached" to one side of the oxygen atom, resulting in a water molecule having a positive charge (on the hydrogen atoms) and a negative charge (on the oxygen atom). Since opposite electrical charges attract, the hydrogen and oxygen molecules attract each other (like a magnet), and get “stuck” to each other.

2.     Water is known as the "universal solvent" because it dissolves most things, i.e. more substances than any other liquid. Because of this quality, wherever water goes, either in rivers, in the ground, in trees or animals, or in our bodies, water takes along valuable chemicals, minerals, and nutrients. So, when we drink water, all these nutrients are passed into our bodies. Conversely, if the water we drink is polluted or poisoned, the pollutants and poisons will get into our bodies. Hence, it is very important to protect our waters.

3.     Pure water has a neutral pH of 7, which is neither acidic nor basic.

4.     Water is the most unique element on earth - it is the only natural substance that is found in all three states – liquid (water), solid (ice or snow), and gas (vapour or steam) at the temperatures normally found on Earth. As a result of changing weather, water is constantly changing from one form to another.

5.     Water freezes at 0  Degree Celcius (oC) and boils at 100 oC (at sea level). Hence, water's freezing and boiling points are the baseline with which temperature is measured: 0 oC being water's freezing point, and 100 oC being its boiling point.

6.     Water has unusual properties in that the solid form, ice, is less dense than the liquid form, which is why ice floats. However, when water freezes (i.e. changes from liquid to solid), its volume expands about 10%. In nature, this expansion is an important form of weathering (i.e. breaking down of rocks into soil). Be careful not to leave a can of cola in the freezer because when it freezes, it will burst and mess up your freezer (and your mom will “kill” you!)

7.     Water has a sticky and elastic property, and tends to clump together in drops rather than spread out in a thin film. This is because water has a very high surface tension. This surface tension is responsible for capillary action whereby water (containing dissolved nutrients) move through soils, through the roots of plants and through the tiny blood vessels in our bodies.

8.     Water Watch Penang (WWP) has been measuring the properties and quality of our waters for many years. The Government (through the Department of Environment, the Drainage and Irrigation Department, the Health Ministry and Water Departments) has also taken millions of water quality measurements and analyses have been made to ensure that our water is safe to drink. This measurement (called water sampling) establishes the quality of water and reveals important properties about the water and the environment around it. In 2002, the water qualities of 120 rivers in Malaysia were sampled – 30 were classified “Clean”, 68 were classified “Slightly Polluted” and 22 classified “Very Polluted”. Since 98 % of our drinking water is from rivers, all of us need to stop polluting our rivers.

9.     Rain in its natural state is not totally neutral with pH 7. For example, if you take the pH of the river behind your school, you will probably find that it is between pH 5.5 and pH 6.0. Hence, you might say "Wow, our river water is acidic! This will kill all our fishes" This is not true as a pH of 5.5 is considered "normal" for most rivers. However, if the pH of your river begins to change, for example from 5.5. to 4.5, then you might suspect that someone is polluting your river with acidic materials, and you and your fellow students may want to find out the source of pollution and alert the authorities about this.

10.  Pollution can change water’s pH, which in turn can be harmful to aquatic flora and fauna. For example, water coming out of an acid factory or coal mine can have a pH of 2, which is very acidic and would kill almost all aquatic. A pH of 2 means this water would be 100,000 times more acidic than neutral water.

11.  Water temperature is an important measurement of water. It is important to swimmers and fisherman, as well as to industries and aquatic life (fish, water fauna and algae). Naturally, people will not be able to swim if it is too hot (e.g. in hot springs) or too cold (e.g. in a half-frozen pond). Water temperature is used for cooling purposes in factories, especially in power plants that generate electricity. Cool water is used to cool the plants, but the effluent (released water) is warm and this may affect rivers in the environment, especially downstream habitats. Temperature also can affect the ability of water to hold oxygen as well as the ability of organisms to resist certain pollutants.

12.  Conductivity or Specific conductance is a measure of the ability of water to conduct an electrical current. Hence, it is dependent on the amount of dissolved solids in the water. Distilled water (which is almost pure), will have a very low specific conductance, but sea water (which contains a lot of salts) will have a high specific conductance. Rainwater often dissolves airborne gasses and airborne dust while it is in the air, and thus often has a higher specific conductance than distilled water. Specific conductance is an important water-quality measurement because it gives a good idea of the amount of dissolved material in the water. In school, you can run a simple experiment where you hook up a battery to a light bulb and run two wires from the battery into a beaker of water. When the wires are put into a beaker of distilled water, the light will not light. But, the bulb will light up if you put the wires into a beaker that contains salt water. This is because the salt water contains dissolved salts, releasing free electrons, as the water will conduct an electrical current.

13.  Turbidity is a measure of the murkiness, muddiness or cloudiness of water. Alternatively, we can say it is the opposite measure of clarity, the greater the turbidity the less its clarity. Turbidity is measured by passing a beam of light through the water and seeing how much is reflected off particles in the water. Water cloudiness is caused by suspended materials, example dirt, silt, mud, and organic matter. Distilled water is crystal-clear, and has a very low turbidity. However, water from a dirty river such as Sungai Pinang near its estuary would be very murky, muddy or brackish because of a high content of the suspended matter in the water. Lucky for us, water from the Sungai Pinang is not used for drinking! In any case, water drawn from rivers are filtered and treated before it arrives in our homes. Turbidity is measured in nephelometric turbidity units (NTU).

14.  Water quality is also measured by the amount of oxygen dissolved in the water, the more the oxygen the better the water. Although water molecules contain oxygen atom, this oxygen is not available to aquatic organisms living in the waters. It is the small amount of oxygen, up to about ten molecules of oxygen per million of water, dissolved in water that is needed by aquatic organisms for breathing and to live. Moving water in rivers mixes oxygen (in contact with top layer of water) into the water. However, stagnant water such as a pond contains little oxygen. In addition, bacteria in water can consume oxygen as organic matter decays. Aquatic organisms will find it difficult to survive in stagnant water that has excessive rotting, organic material as dissolved-oxygen levels will be deficient.

15.  Hardness measures the amount of dissolved calcium and magnesium in water. Water hardness varies depending on the rocks in an area. If you live in an area where the water is "soft," then you may never have even heard of water hardness. But, if you soap your hands in hard water (e.g. water from limestone caves in Batu Caves), you will notice that it is difficult to get lather up. This implies that industries using hard water will have to spend a great deal of money to soften their water, as hard water can damage equipment. Hard water can even shorten the life of fabrics and clothes!

16.  In Malaysia, the most common pollutant affecting our rivers is suspended sediment or the amount of soil/silt/mud suspended in a river. Suspended sediments depend on the speed of the water flow, as fast-flowing water has the energy to pick up and suspend more soil than slow-moving water. During thunderstorms, a lot of soil (especially in logging and exposed areas) is washed into rivers, resulting in the characteristic “The Tarik” colour of many of our rivers. If we have dense forest or vegetation cover, it will reduce the amount of suspended sediments getting into our rivers. The amount of sediments getting into rivers can also get into reservoirs used for water treatment. The treatment plant in Kinta District was closed many times due to sediments (from road construction) entering it. Dams can also "silt in" if too much sediment enters them and this causes the reservoir’s capacity to be reduced.

17.  Water forms drops because of surface tension. If you fill a glass of water, the water "rises" where it touches the glass (the "meniscus"). Actually, if you fill it slowly you will see that the water surface is “over” the brim of the glass, but the water does not flow out due to surface tension. Water has the highest surface tension among common liquids (though mercury is higher). Surface tension is the ability of a substance to stick to itself (cohere).

18.  If you fill a glass of water with ice, water droplets will form on the outside of the cold glass. This is because water from the air outside the glass is condensing (changing from vapour to liquid) on the outside of the glass in contact with the air. The air contains water vapour, something we refer to as humidity. In cold air, water vapour will condense faster than it evaporates. So, when the warm air touches the outside of your cold glass, the air next to the glass will be cooled, and some of the vapour in that air turns into liquid water droplets.

19.  When moist air (contains water vapour) is forced upwards, it will start to cool and the vapour condenses into liquid droplets, and a cloud will form. This process is responsible for the formation of our different types of clouds. Rising air always cools because higher elevations are cooler. The liquid droplets in clouds are initially too fine to drop out of the cloud as rain. However, mixing of droplets (which causes them to combine) and the attraction between liquid and ice droplets (also causes them to combine) will gradually form large droplets. This process will eventually form large enough droplets to fall out of clouds as rain, hail (ice droplets) or snow.

20.  It is not true that more things can dissolve in sulphuric acid than water. Sulfuric acid might be able to dissolve your lunch box, but water is known as the "Universal Solvent" and can dissolve more things. Water can dissolve more substances than any other liquid. As a result, plants can get their nutrients (dissolved in liquid which they absorb), and the orange juice we drink contains dissolved sugar and nutrients. Even the crystal-clear water in our rivers, lakes, and oceans contains many dissolved elements and minerals, and because these elements are dissolved, they can be “recycled” and used by all. Without this solvent quality of water and the hydrological cycle, much of the nutrients on earth will be buried in the oceans.

21.  More energy is required to change water at 100 oC to steam than to heat cold water to 100 oC. This is because water at boiling temperature (100 oC at sea level) is not the same as boiling water. When water first reaches the boiling point, it is still liquid and much more energy is needed for a change of phase from turning the boiling liquid into gaseous vapour (This is due to the bonds holding water molecules tightly as a liquid). It takes about seven times as much energy to turn boiling water into steam as it does to heat water at room temperature to the boiling point.

22.  Crystallization is the process whereby evaporation of all the water in a substance leaves the remainder as a crystal or solid. For example, if you heat a glass full of sea water with a 20 % salt concentration, evaporation of all its liquid will leave a 1 inch layer of salt. Hence, about one-fifth of the total volume of the water comes from salt or 1/5 of the water is made up of dissolved salt.

23.  Sea water is slightly more basic (i.e. with a pH value higher than 7). Sea water is more alkaline compared to most natural freshwater. Neutral water (such as distilled water) has a pH of 7, which is in the neither acidic nor alkaline. Seawater is slightly alkaline (basic), with a pH of about 8. Most natural freshwater has a pH of between 5.5 to 6.5, although acid rain can have a pH as low as 4.

24.  Rain in many parts of Malaysia is slightly acidic to acidic. In industrial and urban areas such as Prai, Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya, Shah Alam and Johor Baru, the rainfall is acidic between pH 4.5 to 5.0. The inland forested areas have rains with pH between 6.0 to 6.5. This shows that industrialization and urbanization are two processes that contribute to the exacerbation of acid rain.

25.  It is a common misconception that raindrops are tear-shaped like this although when a drop of water comes out of a tap, it does have a tear shape. In the case of the tap, the tear shape is due to the back end of the water drop sticking to the water still in the tap until it can't hold on any more and drops out. However, rain drops are not in contact with other drops and do not have tear shapes. Experiments using high-speed cameras show that falling raindrops are round-shaped and look more like small kaya buns of bread! Gravity and surface tension causes the falling rain drop flatten out somewhat. The strong surface tension of water holds the drop together, resulting in a bun shape.

26.  Water boils quicker at the peak of Cameron Highlands than at the Batu Ferringhi beach. This is true as the boiling point of water gets lower when the altitude gets higher. At the beach (0 metre), water boils at 100o C but in Cameron Highlands (1,500 metres), water boils at 94.9o C. Further up at 3,280 metres water will boil at 89.8o C. This is because as the altitude gets higher, the air pressure becomes less. Since there is less pressure exerted on the boiling water surface at a higher altitude, it is easier for the water molecules to break their bonds and attraction to each other and, thus, it boils more easily.

27.  In much of the developed world, in countries such as the United Kingdom, the USA and Japan, drinking “Toilet water” is very real as a significant amount of wastewater (water from bathroom, kitchen and toilets are recycled for drinking. Nearer home, our Singaporean neighbours are now subject to drinking some toilet water as they embark on recycling wastewater for drinking. Hence, if you have been to Singapore (recently) and London, chances are that you would have drunk some “toilet water”.

28.  Many countries in the world such as Yemen, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria,Tunisia and Egypt are living below the “Stress Line” for water, i.e. having a per capita renewable water of less than 1,700 cubic metres of water per person per year. Malaysians are very lucky because our per capita renewable water is more than 20,000 cubic metres of water per person per year. Still, we have water crises and droughts! This reminds us that we need to conserve our water, stop wastage and use water wisely.

29.  The number of dams and treatment plants that can be built is limited, because a river and its basin has limits. However, population has no limits as population continues to explode. Many river basins in Malaysia have reached their limits of maximum supply (25 river basins). Yet water demand “doubles” every 2 decades but supply lags far behind. In 2007, Selangor is estimated to experience water stress. In 2010, Penang is expected to have insufficient water.

30.  In 2000, water production in Malaysia was about 9,655 Million Litres Per Day (MLD). Out of this, 40 % was lost through non-revenue water (NRW), i.e. water lost through leakage, theft, faulty metres, unmetred use, etc. Hence, NRW in 200 of 40 % amounts to about 3,862MLD or 1,409,630 Million Litres Per Year (MLY). This amount could fill 67 Teluk Bahang Dams (Capacity of 21,000 Million Litres). Hence, if we could reduce NRW by even 10 %, we would have solved most of our water problems!

31.  Do you know how much water you use per day? Do a simple calculation from your water family’s water usage from your water bill: First, find out how much was the family usage over 2 months. There are 2 figures in your bill – one figure for the previous bill and one for the current bill. Use the higher figure minus the lower figure. If your family usage for 2 months (water bills come every 2 months) is X litres, divide this by 5 (assuming you have 5 persons in your family). Then, divide the derived figure again by the number of days in those 2 months (e.g. for April and May it is 61 days). The final figure is your water use per person per day. Compare your usage to that of the Average Malaysian (300 litres), Urbanite in Malaysia (500 litres), Rural Folk in Malaysia (200 litres), Indian in India (100 litres), African (50 litres), Middle East Dweller (150 litres), North American (800 litres), Average water use of Professor Chan Ngai Weng, President of Water Watch Penang (140 litres). How did you do? Now, if your usage is high, try to reduce a bit (be careful not to reduce until it affects your health). Try to get your family members to do the same. Then try to get your friends and relatives to do the same.

32.  The ten common properties of water that are familiar to us all are: It’s wet; It's colorless; It's tasteless; It's odorless; It's distinctive in sound when falling as rain or crashing against the cliffs as a wave; It dissolves nearly everything; It exists in three forms: liquid, solid, gas; It can absorb a large amount of heat; It sticks together into beads or drops; It's part of every living organism on the planet.

33.  Water is the element with the highest latent heat of vaporization. To increase the temperature of water, energy in the form of heat (measured in calories) must be added. One calorie is the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree. Thus, to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water from 0 degrees to 100 degrees, we would need to add 100 calories of heat to the water (by boiling it). However, to convert 1 gram of water from a liquid to a gas, we would need to add 540 calories of heat. Even so, there is no change in temperature of the water but there is only a change in the physical state of the water as it turns from a liquid to a gas. The heat needed to change water from a liquid to a gas is called the latent heat of vaporization. Water's exceptionally high latent heat of vaporization is what makes water so hard to boil.

34.  Vaporization of water (called evaporation) occurs not only at boiling point but also at various temperatures as well. This process is due to the random motion of water molecules at liquid-gas interfaces and physical laws governing vapour pressure. In a glass of water, not all the water molecules have the same energy. Those that have lots of energy will evaporate first, i.e. they vaporize and leave the glass. As they leave, they take their heat energy with them, and this causes the glass of water to cool. Likewise, when we exercise, our bodies will sweat and this act as a cooling mechanism to ensure our bodies does not overheat. Sweating cools our bodies when sweat (water) evaporates from our bodies.

35.  Water has a high latent heat of fusion. For liquid water to change into solid ice, energy needs to be removed from the water. In this case, as with other state changes, the temperature doesn't change but the physical state does. The amount of heat removal required to change liquid to ice is called the latent heat of fusion. For every 1 gram of water to be changed into ice, 80 calories of heat must be removed. This is the reason why a large lake does not freeze immediately even though the temperature is 0  oC. Water has the highest latent heat of fusion, with the exception of ammonia.

36.  Water has the highest heat capacity of any liquid or solid, except ammonia. The heat capacity of water is the amount of heat that is required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree. For water, this amount of heat 1 calorie. This being the case, then the heat capacity of all other substances (except ammonia) is lower, i.e. that it takes less than 1 calorie to raise the temperature of 1 gram of other substances by 1 degree.

37.  In nature, water can absorb a tremendous amount of heat. Because of this capacity, the oceans can store a large amount of heat and hence tend to vary in temperature much less than land. The average range of temperatures in the ocean is from -2 oC to 35 oC. On land, however, temperatures are much more extreme, varying anywhere from -70 oC(near the poles) to 57 oC (hot deserts). As a comparison, if we take the moon, which has no water nor atmosphere, its temperatures are even more extreme, ranging from -155 oC to 135 oC.

38.  Water is vital for the survival of to all living organisms. Whether we believe in the theory of evolution or not, the fact is most life forms in existence now has evolved from some form of water-based life forms. Hence, every living organism on Earth, from the simplest bacteria to the largest mammal, need water to survive. All flora and fauna, even viruses and bacteria contain water. Water is described as the blood of life and it connects all of us in one common thread. However, water is not just a physical need for life but also a spiritual entity, as well as a living, breathing, and thinking being.

39.  The Paradox of Ice sunk the Titanic. In school, we are all taught that solid is denser than liquid, and hence solids will sink in liquids (e.g. putting marbles into a glass of water). However, strangely enough, when we put ice in a glass of lemon juice, it floats! Have you ever wondered? Have you also wondered why the Titanic hit an iceberg? Well, ice floats because it is less dense than water. The Titanic hit the iceberg because only 10 % of the iceberg was visible above the ocean surface (90% being hidden under water and was unsighted by the ship). Do some simple experiments: Pour some oil on a glass of water – which floats over which? Put your pencil in a bowl of water? Does it sink or float? Gently put a needle on top of water – does it float or sink?

40.  Do you know that the cost of water in Malaysia is amongst the lowest in the world? Compare the following costs:
Desalinated Water - US$1.76 – US$2.06/m3
Hong Kong – US$0.92/m3
Dubai - US$0.8985/m3Singapore - US$0.62/m3
Australia (PAWA) – $0.60/m3
Texas, USA - US$0.5947/m3
Tennessee Water Authority – US$0.5262/m3 (1-400 ft3) US$0.8603/m3 (401-6100 ft3)
Malawi – US$0.30/m3
Indonesia - US$0.2105/m3
Malaysia - US$0.0947/m3
India, Chandigarh - US$0.037/m3

41.  El nino – greatest scapegoat of the 21st century. Did you know that el nino has been blamed for almost every human fault throughout the history of mankind? The fall of the kingdom of babylon was blamed on drought caused by el nino. Napoleon lost a war and blamed it on el nino. The plague during the middle ages was also blamed on el nino. In 1997/98 the water crisis in south east asia was again blamed on el nino. El nino caused a reduction in water resources between 30-50 % in most of south-east asia, but countries such as malaysia has 20,000 cubic metres of water per capita per year. Even if it was reduced by half, we would still be very comfortable. So, is it fair to blame good old el nino?

42.  WATER IS EVERBODY’S BUSINESS. Government must realize that total effective water supply management cannot be achieved via a solely “Top-Down” approach. Government must share water management responsibilities with NGOs, local communities, and insudstry in a GOVERNMENT-INDUSTRY-NGO-PUBLIC smart partnership.

43.  Water recycling must be made mandatory for large water users such as hotels, factories, institutes of higher learning & schools, government agencies, businesses, other big water users and the public.

44.  In fact, recycling of all consumables must be made mandatory for all consumers including hotels, factories, institutes of higher learning & schools, government agencies, businesses, other consumers and the public. Everything we use needs water to produce – cars, vegetables, meat, houses, clothes, shoes, paper, computer chips, drinks, etc. It is by recycling, reducing and re-using consumables that water conservation will become more effective.

45.  Non-governmental organisations such as Water Watch Penang (WWP) are the government’s partners in water conservation and management. WWP runs public awareness & education programmes, promotes demand management & recycling strategies, involves itself with “smart-partnership” with government, acts as “consultant” to businesses, factories & hotels, sits as panelists in eia and other committees, conducts public opinion and surveys on willingness to pay & water tariffs negotiations, forms the linkage between government-industry-rakyat. We need your support in order to do our job more effectively.

46.  Be a “water ranger” - promote the evolvement of your community into a “water saving community”. Start with your own family & make your family a “water saving family” rather than water wasting one.

47.  Be a “recycling ranger” - promote the evolvement of your community into a “recycling community”. Start with your own family & make your family a “recycling family” rather than a consumerist family. Recycle, reduce and reuse everything possible. In doing so, you will reduce water wastage as everything needs water to produce.

48.  Did you know how many litres of water are needed to produce the following? :
1 tonne of printing paper = 47,300 litres
1 sunday newspaper = 567 litres
1 tonne of aluminium = 757,000 litres
1 tonne of synthetic rubber = 1.89 million litres
1 computer chip = 17,000 litres
1 average sized car = 147,000 litres
1 pair of jeans = 6800 litres
(as a comparison, the average water need of a person per day is about 165 litres)


49.  Did you know that going vegetarian will help save water? Compare the amount of water needed to produce various types of food & you will realise that vegetables need much less water to produce than meat!
Litres of water needed to produce 1 edible pound of:
tomatoes/lettuce = 87 litres
wheat = 95 litres
carrots = 125 litres
grapes = 265 litres
milk = 492 litres
eggs = 2059 litres
chicken = 3085 litres
pork = 6170 litres
beef = 19,736 litres


50.  Did you know that a typical western lunch--hamburger, french fries, and a soft drink--uses about 5700 litres of water? This includes the water needed to raise the potatoes, the grain for the bun and the grain needed to feed the cattle, and the production of the soda. In comparison, a vegetarian’s lunch of bread, lettuce, carrots and grapes (altogether 1 pound weight) will only add up to about 143 litres!