Conservation Counts on World Water Day and Every Day
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Forget the crippling rains in the East, floods in the Midwest, and soggy spring snows in the West. All the precipitation -- in whatever form--that's inundating the country this winter and spring isn't enough to satiate America's long-term thirst for water. The facts are clear: Nationwide demand for water is up as populations mushroom. The volume of water fouled by pollutants -- natural and man-made -- has skyrocketed. Yet Earth's supply of its water resource is finite. The result: America and the world are running out of the fresh water we all need to survive.
On Monday -- March 22 -- people, organizations, and governments around the world will focus on the planet's water concerns as part World Water Day (http://www.worldwaterday.org). World awareness of water issues has come a long way since 1992, when the United Nations designated March 22 as the annual World Water Day. But it will take significantly more effort than annual observances and conferences to solve the global water crisis.
Not only governments and organizations but Americans and individuals can celebrate World Water Day as a wake-up call to the seriousness of the water shortage. We all can do more personally to contribute to solutions, whether by moderating our water consumption, paying more attention to conversation, or taking pains to prevent pollution.
Concern for our water resources is hardly a far-fetched or politically-inspired viewpoint. Consider some of the facts. Water is a renewable resource, but the total amount of water on Earth is finite. Earth's water cycle is a closed system -- the amount of water on Earth is the same today as eons ago. Factor in growing demand with this limited supply, and -- with unchecked growth and consumption -- we could run out of water sooner rather than later.
The United States uses a mind-boggling nearly 350 billion gallons of fresh water every single day, according to the latest statistics from the U.S. Geological Survey, the government organization that tracks these numbers (http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/1344/). It takes water to produce our energy, grow our food, manufacture our goods, mine our resources, and even to produce the water we drink. The largest use of water -- nearly half the total daily withdrawal -- is energy production.
Individually, Americans consume huge amounts of water daily, too -- an average of about 80 to 100 gallons per person, per day for personal, in-home use, according to the USGS (http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/qahome.html). That's about than 36,000 gallons per person per year. Multiply that by the more than 300 million population of the United States, and the numbers are in the trillions of gallons of water consumed every year just in the U.S.!
Of course, water usage numbers vary depending on who is counting, how they do it, and geographic location. For example, water consumption is greater in arid or dry climates as opposed to cooler ones. But no matter how the numbers are determined, individually Americans use a lot of water.
Outside the United States, water use is a very different story.
In the Netherlands, for example, the per capita daily water consumption is only 27 gallons, while people in Gambia in Africa use just 1.17 gallons of water per person per day, according to numbers from the California-based Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security (http://www.pacinst.org).
The water crisis around the globe and in the United States, goes beyond quantity issues, however. Even if rivers flow full and lakes lap at their high-water marks (unfortunately, fewer and fewer do, thanks to overuse, drought, and climate change), the quality of the water often is questionable. Toxins -- especially man-made ones like pesticides, chemicals, drugs, and plenty more -- turn up in water supplies in cities, towns, and rural areas across the country. Even water processed by municipal treatment facilities isn't always free of many of these and other manmade 21st century pollutants. (Check out my recently published book, Aqua Shock: The Water Crisis in America, Bloomberg Press, for a sampling of what's in your H2O.)
As individuals, we each can do a little that could help a lot when it comes to saving and cleaning up our water. In honor of World Water Day on Monday:
- Turn off the water while brushing your teeth. That can save eight gallons of water per person per day. If a half-million people turn off the water when they brush, in one day 4 million gallons of water could be saved. Multiply that times 365 days and that's a savings of nearly 1.5 billion gallons of water in a year.
- Opt for a shower instead of a bath. A full bathtub can take 50 to 70 gallons of water compared with a five-minute shower that uses only 10 to 25 gallons of water, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's WaterSense program. Multiply that by a half-million people, and you get the saving...
- Take the car to a car wash rather than do it yourself. This isn't about saving vs. spending cash. It's a matter of keeping pollutants that wash off the car out of the source of your drinking water. Car washes generally recycle and clean up the water they use so it means water savings as well.
- Fix that leaky faucet. EPA estimates that leaks account for 10,000 gallons of water (enough to fill a swimming pool!) wasted in homes on average every year. You can calculate how much water your dripping faucets waste with the help of the USGS's Drip Accumulator.
- Replace that old, inefficient toilet. EPA estimates Americans waste nearly 640 billion gallons of water every year flushing old, inefficient toilets. That's fifteen days' worth of water flow over Niagara Falls.
- Turn off the faucet if you're not using it. Letting a faucet run for five minutes uses as much energy as leaving on a light with a 60-watt bulb for 14 hours, according to the EPA.
- Don't flush old or outdated drugs down the toilet or the wash them down the drain. Don't toss them in the trash either. All three disposal methods contribute to contaminating water supplies. Many drug stores and pharmacies, instead, will accept your old medicines and dispose of them properly.
World Water Day could be the start of new water habits for all of us. In the meantime, drink up -- water, that is. There's still enough to go around -- for the time being.