A few years back, a friend from the US was staying at our home in Europe. She was helping out in the kitchen washing some vegetables. The conversation was, admittedly, interesting. She continued washing the vegetables. Actually, by now the veggies were more than clean, but the water kept running and she kept talking. It took about a minute for it to hit me that this amounted to a complete disregard for water conservation. She was so used to bountiful water that this was habitual behavior.
Now I’m in the US and wondering how much things have changed. I do know that I just watched a commercial on television (the object is irrelevant) in which the water kept running and running for no apparent reason. It brought nothing to the message. It reminds me of people smoking in ads in the fifties and sixties: it was trivial.
I, and so many others, see water as one of the world’s major issues going forward. Potentially, we will discover/invent a great new way of desalinating the world’s plentiful oceanic water supply, but I’m not confident that we will do so in a way that is energy efficient. Watering the world’s farms, providing the world’s industrial water supply and otherwise giving us the water we need to wash and eat, all from the distant ocean, sounds like an overly ambitious venture. All this while we mercilessly deplete or pollute our fresh water supply.
I know this is a distant concern. We are currently focussed on climate change, pandemics, armed conflicts and financial stability but beware, on the horizon lies a threat: water shortages. The Middle East knows all about the value of water. So too do the residents of La Paz in Bolivia who are in the midst of a climate change-caused glacier melt that is forcing Bolivia to consider literally moving the capital. Water conservation had better come back to the top of the agenda. I know that there are many loud voices trying to instill the urgency. Among them the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the World Bank, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and others. They all have substantial water-related advocacy and operations activities and yet, the needle seems stuck. Few national parliaments have national-level water conservancy policies of worth.
As with climate change, I think we are waiting for a major indicator to become alarmed. Perhaps the closing of La Paz might do it. Perhaps the day Los Angeles, New York or Paris goes into 50% water rationing. Or, perhaps when farmers start to shut down not because of ‘drought’ but because of ‘water shortage’. In fact, come to think of it, why is the news only about drought when it comes to farms? Why is the headline not: “Water shortage causes loss of crop!”
So, do I take a daily shower? Actually, I do and I will, but I’ve come up with a new trick. I’ve put a three minute timer in the bathroom and I am trying to stop the water before it goes off. When it does go off, I find myself panicking and rushing to finish. Is this the solution? I’m fairly sure that if everyone who has running water tried to shave off 25% of their water use, through techniques such as this one, we would soon reverse my panic curve.