Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Water Earth's Most Valuable Resource

Water is so important to our everyday life that we must be conscious of how we use it or we could run out one day. Think about how you use water daily: Showering, washing clothing and dishes, for hydration, cooking, energy production. When there is no water for more than 12 hours of the day because of something like a water main break, people are usually very unhappy for the inconvenience.

The United States is so used to have clean drinking water that comes out of the taps that we take for granted that clean drinking water is an infinite resource. If you saw the footage of Haiti this last few months, you probably saw that the Haitians do not have clean drinking water readily available to them. Water is not readily potable and available in many countries and there are many countries that are really in dire need of water. Recently, I read an article about water and how we as a society could go greener and become less wasteful of our most important natural resource. Think about how you can help your planet.

See the article below.

Water Water Everywhere Much of It Going to Waste in The Progress Report

by Peter H. Gleick

Your mother was right: Waste not, want not. The largest, least expensive and most environmentally sound source of water to meet California's future needs isn't "new" water at all, but the water being wasted in every sector of our economy. So concludes a new report, three years in the making, published this week by the Pacific Institute of Oakland.

What this means for California is simple: We can meet the needs of a growing population and economy, and still have water left over to protect our state's natural beauty without expensive and environmentally destructive dams or reservoirs, by improving how efficiently we use water.

The good news is these improvements are well within our reach. We can save a huge amount of water with currently available technologies and policies, smarter pricing and economics, appropriate state and local regulations and public education.

Another bit of good news: Water conservation does not mean brown lawns, short showers or cutbacks in the state's economy. With today's technology we can do all the things we want to do, but with less water, by improving efficiency and reducing waste.

While this new report focused on urban water use, farmers can also conserve vast quantities of water while maintaining a strong agricultural economy through improved irrigation practices and continuing the trend toward less water-intensive crops.

Saving water also saves energy and money for water providers, consumers, and the state as a whole -- two other resources in short supply. Our best estimate is that one-third of California's urban water use -- more than 2.3 million acre-feet -- can be saved with existing technology. At least 85 percent of that water can be saved at less than what it would cost to tap into new sources without the many social, environmental and economic consequences that any major water project would bring.

How is this possible? Aren't we already conserving water? Indeed, California often leads much of the rest of the country in innovative water conservation efforts. Los Angeles has added 700,000 people in the past two decades, yet it has not increased its water demand because of efforts to improve efficiency. In 1975, California's economy produced around $30 in goods and services for every thousand gallons of water used; by 2000, this had tripled to $90 per thousand gallons. Yet, during this same period, total statewide water use decreased, despite the fact that our population grew from 21.5 million to more than 34 million. This is an astounding accomplishment.

Yet far more can be done. To give a mundane, yet telling example: the largest single user of water inside our homes is the toilet. Old toilets use six gallons every time we flush. New ones use only 1.6 gallons per flush, a 70 percent savings. While many old toilets have been replaced, it turns out that millions of inefficient ones remain.

If all those old toilets were replaced, the state would save another 420,000 acre-feet of high-quality water that now goes down the drain, and consumers will save money at the same time.

Forget those old jokes about having to flush twice -- the current generation of efficient toilets does a better job than that old one still in your home. The amount of water being wasted by inefficient toilets is greater than any new dam could hope to supply, even if we could find a place to build one that was environmentally, economically and politically acceptable (which we can't).

Another "reservoir" of potential savings is replacing inefficient washing machines in our homes, which could save more than 100,000 acre-feet of water, reduce energy and detergent use -- as well as save consumers money. Outdoor water use can also be made far more efficient with simple changes such as adding irrigation timers or using computer-controlled sprinklers that automatically respond to changing weather conditions. Similar examples of efficiency improvements can be found in every sector of our economy: New digital x-ray machines in hospitals, for instance, provide better images for doctors and replace the old water-intensive film process.

Capturing all of the water we now waste will require new commitments on the part of individuals, government agencies, public-interest groups and others with vested, often conflicting interests in California's water policy. Some of these efforts will be easy; some will be hard. But becoming more efficient is faster, cheaper and better for the environment than building more mega water projects.

There is one last benefit of not wasting water: Your mother would approve.

Peter Gleick, a 2003 MacArthur Fellow, is president of the Pacific Institute in Oakland.

Here is the link to the site:


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