Wednesday, September 22, 2010

This Body of Water

I am sitting on the porch-swing out front, enjoying the evening as the heat and humidity of the day start to wane, the cool breeze moves in, and the sky begins it's reliable show of splendor. I can now report from experience that Texas in the late summer is HOTHOTHOT, but that luckily the nights are beginning to cool off, enough to use a blanket when sleeping.

Just a couple of weeks ago at this time in the evening, I was sitting inside by the window enjoying the soothing sound and loamy smell of rain falling down, bringing much needed saturation to such a dry land. Tropical storm Hermina sent amazing downpours inland, the first real rain we had seen in this area in months. When I had returned to Texas at the beginning of August, temperatures were in the high 90's-low 100's, the garden was dried to a crisp, the yards were brown and scraggly, and the earth was pale and cracking into micro-canyons. Restrictions had been placed on outdoor water use in the area, burn-bans were in effect, and the only relief from the weather was found in swimming in the rivers or staying in the AC.

Despite my negative feelings towards the endless rains of Oregon, and despite it being a destructive storm in parts, Hermina's rain was so much appreciated and enjoyed. For a couple of days, it poured and poured, we didn't need to use the AC, and soups were cooked every night. And now the rivers are gushing onto the banks and covering footpaths, the yards are greening again, bushes are re-flowering, chard and basil are magically reappearing in the garden, and we once again feel surrounded by living things. It is amazing what a couple of inches of rain-water can do.

It is said that all of the water that exists today is the same water that existed when the dinosaurs lived. If this is true, and if our bodies are composed of 2/3 water, then we are literally made of the substance of our ancestors and the ancestors of our enemies, the same substance that has supported, and made possible, all of life, ever. Our children's children will be made of this same water, as well as the grandchildren of our enemies, and all living things that will ever exist. The water we drink becomes us. We pass it on for the same water to become the next living thing. Through water, we are given life and are connected to all of life. May we remember this when we drink a glass of water, wishing for health and sustenance for ourselves and for all of life, friends and foes alike.

Water. It is such an easy thing to not fully appreciate when it is in seemingly endless abundance: We turn on the tap, and there it is, as much as we *think* we need to use. During those stormy rainy days, I read the April 2010 issue of National Geographic which is wholly devoted to the subject of water and why we need to re-think how it is used. I recommend reading that issue. If you haven't read it, or would rather not, I have summarized some of it's most interesting and powerful points below for you to read instead. For I agree, it is time to not only re-think our water use, it is time to change our water use.

Leading climate change scientists have been warning us that because of human activities and high standards of living in industrialized countries, our resources, including clean water, are being depleted at a rate that calls into question whether these resources will be available for the entire life of the current generation being born. I was taught by my parents to leave a place I have visited in the same, if not better, condition than when I arrived. And so, I believe that we are responsible for ensuring that future generations have the joy and ease of living on a beautiful and bountiful earth, with easy access to clean water, air, and soil. Our children, our grandchildren, our selves.

"We have been slow to give up on the myth of Earth's infinite generosity. Rather grandly, we have overdrained our accounts." (Barbara Kingsolver) Yes, water will always exist, but will it be in a form available to us, will it be clean enough to consume, will we have access to it, what will we be able to use it for?


* 97% of water on earth is salt water, 2% is fresh water in the form of snow and ice, and the remaining 1% is available to us in the form of surface and ground water.

* Of this 1% available water, 2/3 is used to grow food.

* Worldwide, water aquifers are being drained from human consumption faster than they are being replenished. Droughts (which are increasing due to human induced climate change)and deforestation draw the water tables lower still.

* On average, each U.S. citizen uses 100 gallons of water/day at home (this does not include hidden water use due to agricultural and industrial consumption).

* By contrast, millions of people in developing countries use less than 5 gallons of water/day.

* Water is more expensive to provide to those who are the least able to pay for it.

* 46% of people worldwide do not have plumbing in their homes. 900 million have no access to clean water. 2.5 billion have no safe way to dispose of human waste, a public health crisis that accounts for 3.3 million deaths per year, mostly of children under the age of 5.

* Washing hands can cut diahrreal disease by 45%. But when you live on 5 gallons of water a day which took you 8 hours to collect, you may only spare enough water to wash your hands once a day, and to wash your clothes once a year.

* In developing countries, women and children walk an average of 3.7 miles to get "fresh" water(most often this water is brackish, bitter, and unfit to drink), with this distance increasing. In the NW Peruvian desert, women walk 8 hours a day to bring enough water home for their families. In N. Kenya, women walk 5 hours a day for water, carrying it in 5 gallon (50 pounds) containers on their backs.

* In Delhi, India, demand for water exceeds the available supply by over 300 million gallons a day. In a slum of 16 million people, there are only a few functioning water taps which run for only 1 hour a day. Cutting in line may lead to serious and sometimes deadly brawls.

* Dirty drinking water is due to chemicals used in agricultural and industrial activities, human and animal defecation, sediment, and salt.

* Imagine what a community could accomplish if their members didn't have to spend hours a day walking or standing in line for water: They could grow more food, raise livestock, start a buisness, maintain their health, have a full education, and have leisure time to enjoy life.

* By 2025, with an annual population increase of 83 million, nearly 2 billion people will live where water is extremely scarce.

* To supply our growing population, the efficiency of our water use needs to double in the next 20 years.

* 1/3 of the world's population, living in 12 countries, depend on rivers fed by snow and ice melt for their water. Because of climate change, the ice and snow are melting at a much faster rate than these resources are being replenished. In these other countries, we are seeing the direct effects of industrialized nations' emissions on climate change: a 1.3 degree F average increase in global temperature has led to a dramatic increase in the rate of ice melt, which in turn has led to swollen rivers swirling with sediment (making the water unfit to drink), flooding, landslides, erosion of topsoil, the displacement of people, decreased food production, and the eventual depletion of rivers.

* Conflicts are already arising between countries over competition for water access. In areas where ice melt is increasing, countries upstream are damming rivers to preserve their access to this quickly dwindling resource, while countries downstream are suffering from less access to what water is left. In the West Bank, Palestinians are prevented from digging their own wells. As their existing wells and natural springs run dry, they are forced to buy water from Israel, water that is literally pumped from the aquifer that runs under the West Bank land.

*In California, 70% of the water supply is in the northern part of the state, while 80% of the usage is in the southern part of the state. 70% of residential water use in southern CA is used outside of the home for lawns and pools, etc. In California, already many lakes and rivers have dried up, many wetlands and fish populations have been seriously harmed, from the state's water use. With a 2000 mile complex piping system of providing the state with water, another major earthquake could leave millions of Californians without water and could devastate food production in the state.

* 2 billion gallons of water are used every day to irrigate golf courses in the U.S. In Florida, an average of 3000 gallons are used for irrigation for every golf game played.

* 150 billion gallons of water are lost to evaporation from swimming pools in the U.S. every year.

* It takes 6 gallons of water to flush a conventional toilet, 37 gallons to fill a bathtub, and 15-25 gallons to take a shower.

* It takes 60% more water to support a meat based diet than a vegetarian diet. During the 3 year life of a cow, 816,600 gallons are used to support it's life. This will yield 440 pounds of boneless beef. 1,857 gallons are used to produce 1 pound of beef. In contrast, 43 gallons are used to produce 1 pound of beans.

* 2,900 gallons of water are used to manufacture 1 pair of jeans, 2,800 gallons for 1 cotton bedsheet, and 766 gallons for 1 cotton t-shirt.


1. Ask your municipality to reuse wastewater as irrigation in parks and other public green spaces.

2. If you golf in coastal areas, request that your golf club returf with Paspalum turf, which tolerates droughts and can be watered with saltwater from the sea. The salt will kill weeds, decreasing the need of pesticides while decreasing the use of our fresh water supply.

3. Disconnect your downspouts and recycle rainwater: Direct your gutters to flow to the base of trees or shrubs, or into a rainbarrel to use later for watering your garden. This will conserve water, decrease your water bill, and save energy and chemicals used in water treatment plants.

4. Remember that where you spend your money is a powerful tool. Supply will respond to demand. Support industries and dietary pathways that use less water, that make serious efforts to decrease their emissions, and that use less chemicals.

5. Eat less meat. Choose organic and chemical free produce, dairy, and meat. Eat locally grown food that is in season. This is all better for you, better for the farmers, and better for the health of the water, air, and soil that we depend on.

6. Support legislation and politicians that are working for emissions controls, clean renewable energy, and water conservation.

7. Donate money to organizations such as Wateraid,, CARE, Potters for Peace, and A Glimmer of Hope. Donate every month, donate once a year at Christmastime. These organizations depend on donations to be able to help those who depend on charity. Among many other awesome things, their projects include developing sanitary systems of human waste disposal, handwashing stations, hygiene education, community involvement and empowerment, and bringing clean water to the people via permanent plumbing infastructure and filtration systems.

8. Plant drought resistant plants in your yard. Decrease the amount of lawn you have to water, or stop watering your lawn. If you water your lawn and garden, water early in the morning or in the evening, not during peak heat of the day. Use drip irrigation, which uses less water because all water goes directly towards the roots of plants.

9. Save your dish water to water your plants, save your shower water to flush the toilet.

10. Install low-flow water saving fixtures on your shower head and other faucets, and in your toilet: purchase here and read more water saving tips.

11. When buying new appliances, buy energy star, low water use appliances.

12. Don't buy bottled water. Buy a stainless steel water bottle and fill it with filtered water from your tap. Carry this bottle with you everywhere. Not only will you save plastic and decrease your exposure to the chemicals leeched into the water from the plastic, you will help prevent water from becoming a commercialized commodity. And anyway, a lot of water is used to create each plastic bottle of water.

13. Educate yourself. Educate others. Teach through your examples.

14. Volunteer with a local environmental or water conservation organization with their clean-up projects. Or go for a walk next to a local river or lake and pick up any trash you see next to or in the water.

15. Leave comments on this blog posting with other suggestions of things we can all do to help with water quality and access.

16. Join me in my Reader Invitation, which is detailed below.


This is where reader participation is invited. For the next week, I invite, and challenge, you to change one of your water use habits. For one week, while you are showering turn the water off while you are sudsing up. This means that you turn the water on only when you are first getting wet and when you are rinsing off.

For those of you who already do this, choose another water saving challenge for yourself to do for the next week.

Everyone, please, if you are going to accept my invitation, please leave a comment on this blog posting to let me and other readers know. This is a community effort, after all. In a week, or sooner if you would like, we can all repost in the comment section to check in with each other, share our experiences and thoughts, and support and learn from each other. SO, give it a go! And invite other friends or family to join us in this positive challenge. A week is not really that long, and think of all the water you will be saving so that someday someone will have enough water to drink.

For myself, this challenge actually began when I was living at the orphanage in Mexico this spring. We didn't have hot water, so the showers were refreshingly cold (I would wait till the hot of the afternoon to take my shower). Since I have been back from Mexico, I have maintained that habit of turning the water off in the shower other than when I am rinsing. I take showers every other day. And I shave my legs with a little bit of water in the bathroom sink. Since I have already been doing this for quite awhile, I will give myself the task of saving my dish water to water plants with for this coming week. Woo-hoo!

Thank you for reading and for participating!!!!

1 comment:

Roxie said...

You've given us a lot of good info to think about! Your dad has already changed to the short shower tactic and I've pretty given up taking baths. But there is much more we can do. Mom