We waste water here in the United States . . . and no, I’m not talking about swimming pools.
I recently read several books about the water wars of the past 200 years in the United States. I knew about the California wars, courtesy in part of the movie ‘Chinatown’, but who knew there were wars over water along the Great Lakes and in the Dakotas, high up in the mountains and quite literally throughout the entire country? Once I’d read those books, I started thinking about all the ways I use water.
Our country has been experiencing a rather widespread bout of drought for at least the last two years. The south, southwest, midwest and western mountains, even areas on the Pacific Coast, were bone-dry last summer. Farmers’ crops withered in the fields. Cattlemen were forced to sell their herds because they could no longer afford to buy feed or ran out of water to keep them alive. One town even had to literally truck in water, because their sources completely dried up.
And that was just in the United States. Over the last several years, I remember hearing stories about widespread droughts in Europe, Africa, Asia. Polluted drinking water sickening entire villages. The desserts expanding ever-rapidly, driving people from their homes into makeshift refugee camps.
People everywhere without adequate water to drink.
I have a bad habit of letting the water run while I brush my teeth.
Seriously, I never thought about it. Flip on the faucet, wet the toothbrush, add toothpaste and brush, then rinse out your mouth and rinse off the toothbrush. How much water could I possible be using?
A lot. Well over three gallons.
I stuck a basin into the sink and did my usual brushing Sunday night.
The basin overflowed. It normally holds three gallons — and it overflowed before I had even finished brushing my teeth.
To put this in perspective, I’m told my dishwasher only uses five-six gallons of water on a normal wash cycle. That’s six gallons to wash twice as many dishes as I have teeth, plus pots and a large amount of utensils. And I usually run the dishwasher every three days or so — which means I am wasting three times more water brushing my teeth than I need to run the dishwasher once.
Those wasted gallons of water could have allowed a rancher to hold onto a cow. Ensured the farmer could provide me with cobs of corn for a July 4th barbecue. Let someone take a shower instead of a sponge bath.
Kept someone alive for a few more days in another country.
And then I started noticing other ways I’m not water-conscious. I let the water run while I’m conditioning my hair and shaving my legs in the shower. I fill up a pot with water to cook — and put the pot on the stove before I turn off the sink’s faucet. I drink half a glass of cold water and when it gets warm – I dump it out, then get a new glass of cold water.
There are more, but listing my sins isn’t really the point. The point is — all those little, unneeded, overuses of water add up, very quickly. I estimated that I waste probably twenty-thirty gallons or more just between the shower and brushing my teeth. It doesn’t sound like a lot of water, until you realize what you could do with it besides letting it run into the sewers.
Water crops. Keep people and animals alive.
Put a little less strain on critical supplies at a time when water is an ever-more-scarce resource.
I’m not talking about banning pools, or saying never wash your car or water your lawn. I’m talking about the little ways we just use water without purpose. If we all just thought, turned off the faucet once or twice instead of letting the water run, how much water could we save? There’s 300 million people in this country — how many of us are letting gallons of water run down the drain, unused?
Eventually, hopefully, our drought here in the United States will end. But the fact remains, water is a finite source. We can survive with different food sources — substitute chicken when beef is unavailable, enjoy brussel spouts when asparagus prices go up.
We can’t live without water.
And we’re wasting it.