Friday, January 16, 2009

Water, water, everywhere, and nada

I can't voice this strongly enough: CUT WAY DOWN ON YOUR WATER USE NOW!

So, why so strident? Let's start with an easily digestible bullet list:
  • The earth's population is over six billion; roughly 1.1 billion have no access to clean, safe drinking water.
  • The average American uses 150 gallons of water every day; the average citizen of a developing country uses about five gallons.
  • The EPA fails to regulate fifty-one known contaminants in public drinking water.
  • Over 116,000 man-made chemicals find their way into public water supplies.
(h/t to the documentary Flow and its website for the above facts.)

Water has become a commodity so valuable that wars are fought over access to it (Sudan). Yet in the U.S., many of us act as if water is a natural resource without end. That perception is easy to have, especially in Cincinnati. To get to UC's campus from my house, I travel over one river (the Little Miami) and alongside another (the Ohio). We have oceans of water.

Unfortunately, most of that water is undrinkable. To render much of it suitable for human use, it has to be purified or distilled, a process that creates an incredible amount of chemical waste. So what to do? Here are a few ways you can immediately cut down on your water use. And all of these will save you money. (That's an added bonus, not the primary reason.)
  • Take shorter showers, and turn off water when you aren't using it. The average five-minute shower uses 40 gallons of water. The water doesn't need to be on while you're lathering your hair or skin; in most cases it doesn't need to be on when you're shaving or brushing your teeth. (Shaving your skin, I mean--not your teeth.)
  • Stop buying bottled water (and don't steal it, either). If you're drinking bottled water because you don't trust tap water, bad news: bottled water isn't healthier than tap water. But it's worse for the planet. Even if we recycled all the plastic water bottles we bought, the extraction of water damages the planet. Companies like Nestle go into areas like the Great Lakes area of Michigan, drill down into the water aquifers, and extract water from localities and leave waste behind (the CO2 from trucks that ship the water among them). The draining of the underground aquifers shrinks streams and other waterways, which has an incalculable impact on the local ecology. In almost every community that water companies go into, they negotiate prices that are startlingly beneficial to them without any benefit for the community they enter into.
  • Replace your faucets and shower heads, if possible. Low-flow shower heads can reduce your water use in a shower from as much as eight gallons per minute to less than one gallon per minute. That not only lowers the water you use, it cuts down on your energy use as well--that's less water to heat. (And plenty of money to save.)
  • Watch the documentary Flow to scare yourself into taking these steps. You can rent it from Netflix. Lackluster Video doesn't seem to have it.
These are all easy steps. You can also sign a petition to add a 31st article to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one that adds access to clean water as a fundamental human right. Unlike oil, water is necessary to life.

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