Friday, October 15, 2010

Blog Action Day 2010 - Water

I try to participate each year in Blog Action Day. This year, it's on a topic near and dear to my sustainable heart: WATER. Here in the United States, we have a tendency to take water for granted. Just turn the tap and it's there. If you don't like that water, you can buy bulk bottled water at BJs or Costco for a pittance. We also still have unpolluted water available to much of our populace via dams, streams, and springs. We're lucky.

There are places in the world, places as near to us as the UK and Italy and France, where water isn't nearly as available. Turning the tap is no guarantee that water will magically appear, and it isn't nearly as cheap as we get it here in America. In some places, bottled water is either very expensive, or banned because it is such a misuse of something that many feel is a human right.

If you think globally, we are an incredibly rich planet when it comes to water. It even falls from the sky. Yet we waste it every day. There isn't even a thought connected with dumping out the water you had left over in your cup from last night. We let it run while we brush our teeth. We flush our toilets willy nilly, never thinking.

I had the opportunity to talk to a lady from Australia this summer, when we met in NYC for a little get-together. One of the things she was most horrified about was our water use. Australia is in drought conditions most of the time, but right now it's especially bad. Their education campaign puts the impetus on each person, young and old, and lets them know the price of running their water. They're discouraged from baths, and long showers are considered a no-no. She described to me the horror and "pit of the stomach" sickness she felt watching someone brush their teeth at the hostel she was at, letting all that water go gushing down the drain.

All that made me think. I've let the water run when brushing on many occasions. I let the water run to heat up, or to cool down. It never occurred to me that it was similar to taking whole meals and just shoving them through the garberator. Not one of us could imagine wasting food that way, and yet we do it with water every day. Wow.

Our farm and our home run on two sources of water: well and spring. We generally use the spring water, because we're water snobs and think the flavor is much nicer. The spring and well both gravity-feed into a cistern in the basement, which then pumps water to the rest of the house. In a power outage, it means we continue to get fresh, cool water regardless, and even without generator backup, the main floor bathroom can be flushed. We're lucky.

This summer, the a couple of the springs that feed our farm dried up. The stream that usually flows merrily down our mountain was nothing but a dry, brown bed of dust. The place that had been a sanctuary for me became a place of sadness and dirt. I made a couple of offerings to the local land spirits, but otherwise just waited to see what would happen. Even now, after several hard rains, there's not a stream there anymore. It's still only a trickle. If we're lucky, we'll get heavy snow this winter to replenish the springs and streams on our property.

One of the results of the springs drying up was that our water supply had to be switched over to the well. We actually ran the cistern dry on a few occasions before we realized how serious it was. At the time, it annoyed me, but in light of the various conversations of the summer, I'm now much more concerned than I am angry. The big question is whether this is the "new normal" or if this was just a blip on the seasonal radar. Questions, many questions to answer.

Water is what keeps us alive. Humans can live up to 8 weeks without food, sometimes a bit longer or a bit shorter time depending on factors such as temperature, what kind of shape you were in prior to stopping eating, etc. Water, on the other hand, only has to be removed from us for 3 days or so and we can die. In warm conditions, even a few hours without water can bring on death! About 70% of our body is MADE of water. If you want to know other interesting water facts, you can check this out for yourself.

Water. The stuff of life. We waste most of it by flushing our toilet. More is wasted by running it to do tasks like washing dishes, brushing teeth, hot baths, long showers, and other tasks we consider trivial. Think about the people of third world countries, who are required to carry their water from a local reservoir or well, and wonder to yourself how well YOU would do in that situation. Try it for a single day, if you like. Fill a big container with water and store it in your basement or outside. Anytime you want to flush a toilet, go down and get the water and pour it in (that will "flush" for you). If you want to drink, go down and get it. If you want to brush your teeth, cook, rinse something, go haul your water. Even the ease of carrying it up one flight of steps or from outdoors to in will make us re-think our position on water use.

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