Photo courtesy: The Interwebs
Like millions of others, I watch friends and family take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and laugh and amuse myself silly. It is arguably a fun and crazy way to spread the word about a dreadful disease, hopefully bringing in some money to the cause.
To be sure, my children are already aware about Lou Gehrig’s Disease, that there is currently no cure for it, and that it can strike anyone at any time. Children of nature and science, we are quite familiar with Stephen Hawking‘s contributions to the world of astronomy and physics, despite his affliction with the disease.
Not to knock any disease of Homo sapien, this is the picture that pops into my head every time I watch an ALS Challenge video.
It kind of takes the fun out it.
How on earth can I focus on one human disease that afflicts just a fraction of people, when drinking from a dirty water puddle conjures a host of diseases, all of which can be prevented entirely? Clean water — free from contaminants — is all this child needs, and contrasting with the waste of billions if not trillions of gallons of clean water wasted to become a 15-second video sensation seems out of place.
Americans on the average consume around 100 gallons of clean water where the average sub-Saharan African uses only two. We need a serious a paradigm shift and a renewed appreciation for our most valuable natural resource. It’s not oil, natural gas, trees, or coal. It’s clean, fresh drinkable water.
Much like our trash and waste habits, a general over-consumption of goods and natural resources, and our treatment of food, animals-for-food in particular, we Americans take clean water for granted every single day.
What do we each do with our 100 gallons?
We water our lawns with it. We flush our poo with it. We gripe as a heavy downpour foils our commute or cancels our plans for fun, but rarely collect it. We fill up our backyard swimming pools with it and bathe in it. We don’t even drink what’s provided for us! We’d rather stock up at Costco’s with pre-filled water bottles for our pantries because we don’t like the “taste” of what comes out of the tap.
All this while children routinely drink from puddles all around the world.
Recognize this little graphic from the US Drought Monitor, Texans?
Yep. That was us a few years ago in dark red. Many posts here highlighted at DirtNKids this particular prolonged drought year and how it changed my gardening ways — my life ways, no less. Our normally lush and sub-tropical green zone near the coast around Houston experienced record forest fires due to the months of no rain and resulting dryness. Ranchers struggled to keep their cattle alive and farmers lost crop after crop. Rainfall is normally plentiful here at around 36 inches per year, for as far back as any one of us can remember. In 2011, that was not the case.
Now take a look at this one, just three years later.
It appears that we have intentionally thrown the hot burning ball to our neighbors on the Left Coast. My Cali friends, we really do hope you recover from this dreadful condition, though it’s no secret we’ve been jealous of your non-hurricane temps-in-the-mid-70’s climate for quite some time. Please don’t take it personally. Our friends in Mexico are perfectly happy to supply our fruits and veggies, which is really more “local” than your farms thousands of miles to the west. Don’t be mad that we now lovingly refer to you not as the Nation’s Food Basket but as America’s New Dust Bowl. Hang in there; it’ll be over soon.
Kidding aside, we all need to get more serious water conservation or we’re going to be in real trouble real quick. This is only a small taste of what climate trends will be dishing us in just a few short years.
Terrestrial animals (humans included) and plants cannot live without fresh water. Texans or Californians, Americans and Africans alike — not a single one of us can live without purified fresh water.
What We Know
Fresh water has never been plentiful. You may be surprised to learn that 97% of earth’s water is full of salt. Desalinating ocean water is not a viable solution for creating drinking water. It is a complicated and energy-intensive process leaving sea water off limits for terrestrial beings and plant life for the time-being.
Of the 3% of earth’s water that can be used by humans, you have to first discount what is locked up in glacial ice at the poles. Next, forget about the droplets floating around in our atmosphere that may (or may not) fall down as rain. Unless you have your own pump, you can nix the naturally purified aquifers hundreds of feet under ground. What’s left is the easy stuff — what is called “ground water” — to capture for drinking. Shockingly, this makes up less than a hundredth of a percent of the earth’s available fresh water — that’s all the river, lakes, ponds…combined.
Once ground water is withdrawn, it must then be purified for direct consumption by people, and this is typically done on the industrial level by municipalities. Unlike other animals, homo sapiens cannot drink water from puddles without serious health repercussions; we are, whether we like to admit it or not, part of the food chain. Water-borne diseases kill one person every 20 seconds, that is (thankfully) not indicative of the United State’s water supply.
So…where does all our water go every day? Agriculture — by the hundred million gallons. Industry — by the hundreds of millions of gallons. The average American household — a whopping 100,000 gallons each year. Washed down storm drains, running off sidewalks, leaky toilets or faucets — unspeakable millions of gallons.
We practically eat our water when you consider some our favorite food sources.
- 1 slice of bread = 55 gallons
- 1 lb of tofu = 240 gallons
- 1 fast food hamburger = 600 gallons
- 1 lb of beef OR 1 gallon of cow’s milk = 1,000 gallons
- 1 lb of almonds = 1,900 gallons
- 1 lb of coffee beans = 2,500 gallons
- 1 lb of chocolate = 3,500 gallons
More than 30% of a household’s drinking water goes down the toilet — “black water” — chasing poo and pee to the processing plant, followed by cleaning our bodies and washing our clothes — “grey water.” I won’t even go into how much of that clean, drinkable water we throw to our grass and prized rose bushes; at least any waste there winds up back in the ground to be purified by nature, rather than re-processed by a waste treatment facility.
What We Can Do – A Top Ten
10. Wash your car at home, or not at all. Fill up a 5-gallon bucket only with cold water and wash your vehicle by dipping a long-handled brush in it and scrubbing the grime off by hand — no soap needed. Let the water run off into your garden and not the storm drain. For tough road grime, use a hand-sponge with a drop or two of dish soap. Two-towel dry — wet on, dry off.
9. Catch rainwater. Rain barrels are expensive, but 55-gallon trash cans can be modified to catch water caught from a rooftop via the downspout. Put one at every catch location and use a small submersible (waterfall type) pump to empty them onto your flower beds.
8. Catch shower and bathwater and use for the nearby toilet. With a 1-gallon trash can or bucket, this gray water can be used again rather than being sent straight away to the processing plant. Fast pour = flush. Second fast pour = double flush. Slow pour = fill.
7. If you aren’t all that dirty, take a cold sink bath. It only uses one gallon of water, a wash rag, and some fresh-smelling liquid soap to stay fresh, versus the 10-gallon shower or 50-gallon bath. And like I tell my kids, “Face. Pits. Butt. Feet.” In that order exactly. And unlike your bath towel, don’t hang it up for reuse. Put that nasty thing in the laundry or throw it on your little sister’s face for fun. (Kidding, Angie.)
6. Share baths, take military showers. A bath can use 50-70 gallons where a 5-min shower only uses 10-25 gallons. Don’t stand with the shower water running down your back while you lather up. Turn it OFF. As for baths, there is no good reason why murky bath water cannot be used to clean two, three or even five more dirty bodies. Go easy on the soap, though, or you’ll wind up with an unexpected bubble bath.
5. Buy recycled goods where possible. Far less water goes into the recycling of a thing versus the direct first-time manufacture of it.
4. Build a backyard garden. If you’re in a drought-stricken area, try a drought-tolerant keyhole garden like the one here.
3. Put a catch-bucket or tub in your kitchen sink. Use it to pre-rinse dishes before loading into the dishwasher, catch hand-washing water, and strain your spaghetti water into. Pour that water into your flowerbed or keyhole garden instead of down the drain.
2. Fix your toilets and leaky faucets, and shut the valve to your sprinkler system when not in use. This is where the real waste is in a household as it normally can’t be seen. Do it now! Your wallet will thank you for it too.
1. Go vegan. Vegans consume in gallons-of-water far less than that of paleos, omnivores, or even lacto-vegetarians. Processing animals and animal products for food consumption on a mass (factory-farmed) level is one of the most water consumptive agricultural industries there is. Corn crops alone withdraw a whopping 70% of our ground water resources — corn which predominantly feeds the animals that we eat.
Conservation begins with awareness.
Change your actions today, and don’t waste another single drop of clean, fresh water.