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How to Get Your Home Off the Water "Grid"

People are becoming more self-sufficient in terms of energy and food, but what about water? Here's some ideas.

The recent convergence of events has led many people to begin discussing economic and ecological sustainability and local production of food and energy. In the past two years, as the world witnessed financial, economic, political, geopolitical, social, and military turmoil, people have raised critical issues of "peak oil," globalization, and global food and energy crises, and begun to talk about possible solutions and to empower themselves and their communities.

Even large urban mainstream media such as the Los Angeles Times and New York Times have featured stories of people who have started community gardens, replaced lawns with "victory gardens" and raised chickens in their backyards, and established cooperatives for local networks of food producers, among others. While the food and agricultural issues have captured mainstream media's attention at a time food commodity prices soared manifold in 2007 and 2008, few people have yet to talk about water.

What about water? What can people do to exert some control over water -- especially at a time when both water delivery and wastewater treatment have been centralized and controlled by either municipal utilities or private corporations? For the nervous communities and individual "survivalists" who are busily installing their own rooftop solar-power systems and growing their own vegetable gardens, what can they do about their water? How can communities survive and sustain themselves if their water and sewage utilities stop treating water because these utilities simply cannot obtain the essential chemicals and fossil fuel to operate their plants due to a variety of reasons?

Water is the basis of agriculture and industry, and the foundation of sanitation. In essence, humanity can live without oil -- albeit more primitively -- but humanity cannot survive without water. Despite its importance, rarely has the issue of water been integrated into our discussions of food crises and economic crises, except when we briefly talk about global warming and extreme droughts that affect crop-growing regions. Without clean water, we cannot have healthy people and communities.

In this time of uncertainties and chaos, how can individuals and communities help themselves to prepare their water systems so as to keep themselves alive and healthy? The first step is to design and plan for alternatives to the colossal, centralized chemical-intensive, fossil-fuel-intensive conventional water and wastewater systems.

What's Wrong with Our Current Water Systems?

Fossil fuel and electricity from the grid are the lifeblood of conventional water- and wastewater-treatment systems, which are designed and built to rely on fossil fuel as their sole energy source. Without fossil fuel, there simply would be no water and wastewater treatment. When the supply and delivery of fossil fuel run out, one can expect the so-called First World to revert back to the pre-plumbing days of the early Industrial Revolution, not unlike the days when major European cities were literally cesspools of stagnated human wastes breeding diseases, as raw sewage flowed through streets directly into streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans.

Chemicals are another lifeblood of the conventional water systems. Here "conventional water- and wastewater-treatment systems" refer to the municipality- or corporate-owned, large-scale, centralized, and highly engineered processes and technologies, which require a constant and substantial feed stream of fossil-fuel energy and chemicals for treatment. These systems generate byproducts and pollutants during treatment (e.g., waste sludge, waste gases, and waste chemicals --- all requiring disposal) and generally cost several million dollars to build, operate, and maintain.

Today's conventional water- and sewage-treatment facilities are multimillion-dollar engineering marvels designed and built by multinational engineering companies with minimal regard to their environmental impact, their resource consumption, and their dependence on energy-delivery and raw-materials-supply systems in their operation and maintenance. Despite being highly engineered, these systems are neither robust nor flexible. In fact, because conventional treatment facilities rely on the complex web of resource production and delivery infrastructure to feed their heavy demand on resources, they are vulnerable to total system failures caused by only a few supply-web components' malfunction.

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