When we go tossing around terms like Blue Marble as we did in our Earth Day post on Tuesday, it feels a little disingenuous not to talk about just how little accessible, potable water there actually is at our fingertips. So today’s post has five excellent reasons why we should all be a little more conservative (so to speak) with our domestic water use.
So Why Care About Saving Water?
1. There’s Just Not that Much Water Around
Although 71 percent of our planet’s surface is covered by water, there really is not all that much of it. And what there is is mostly not useful to people as the kind of liquid we want coming out of a faucet every time we feel thirsty or spill something in the kitchen.
This graphic, created by Howard Perlman of the USGS and Jack Cook of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, shows all the water on earth pulled out its oceans, rivers, air and ice caps into three spheres. All of it in the largest sphere – 332,500,000 cubic miles – all the freshwater in the second one – 2,551,100 cubic miles – and the third TINY dot hovering over Atlanta represents all the fresh water that is easily accessible to humans – a mere 22,339 cubic miles.
We’re not going to dry up and blow away tomorrow but the water that comes so effortlessly out of American faucets at the turn of a handle is nothing we should be taking for granted.
2. Local Water Supply is More Important (and at risk) than World Totals
And its not just a matter of the total world supply of water being limited. What’s more important is the limits on our LOCAL water supply. People may shell out for bottled water that is (theoretically) from far distant places but the fact of the matter is that not having access to water in a lake, river or ground water source nearby is an expensive and problematic situation. We can treat and re-circulate surface water with relative efficiency but if we over draw on groundwater sources there can be serious consequences. Wells that draw too much can cause depressions in the water table which make other nearby wells run dry. Over-drawing on ground water can draw salt water into the underground water source and render it unusable. And if we draw too much water out of an aquifer – a layer of water saturated rock – it can collapse and loose its porous ability to hold water in the future. So its up to us to not run out of or pollute our local available supply of water.
3. Fair Play (We’re using EMBARRASSINGLY more than our share.)
The average American family of four uses 400 gallons of water every day. The average African family uses 5 gallons of water per day. While we’re not suggesting that everyone immediately limit themselves to the World Health Organization recommended minimum of 13 gallons (50 liters) of water per person to meet basic needs are met but we can surely come towards the middle a bit. Europeans manage to live in first world comfort with per capita water usages ranging from 22 gallons per person in Lithuania to a gluttonous 70 in Spain. Note: this data comes from a London School of Economics blog post calling for steeply increased water prices to bring down the overuse.
4. Household water Waste is Pretty Unnecessary
The EPA clocks toilets as the single largest user of household indoor water (27%) and warns that a leaky toilet can waste 200 gallons of water a day. American toilets installed before 1987 use 7 gallons per flush when totally conventional toilets dating from 1994 or later need only 1.6. (Note: you can check if you have one of these newer models by looking for the 1.6 gpf note printed just behind the seat hinge.) That’s just the minimum required by building code. Even more efficient toilets can achieve the same results with 1.28 gallons (look for a WaterSense label). Updating your toilet can cut that water use by a quarter.
And here’s a real brain twister: why are we choosing to deal with our “solid waste” by sluicing it out with potable water in the first place? Not only do we spend time and effort to make clean pure wash-your-baby’s-face-with-it water and then use it to flush it down the drain, we then have to spend the same time and effort again to separate them at the sewage treatment plant. Sure the flush toilet was a good idea when it was invented in 1596 but we have re-thought a lot of other systems since then!
5. Because they said so on Sesame Street
And for the clincher, we’ll leave you with the words (and music) of Jerry Nelson for Sesame Street, which may echo in the ears of anyone who watched PBS in the 90’s.