Clean, drinkable water is the essential natural resource humans need for survival. But as the 21st Century rolls on an astounding number of Americans seem oblivious to the danger climate change, pollution and wasteful personal, commercial and industrial uses pose on the world’s supply.
Ongoing conservation efforts range from placing greater restrictions on withdrawals from watersheds, such as the Great Lakes, and curbing consumer use by harvesting rain water. In arid climates installation of low volume flush, no water urinals and toilets are increasingly common, and modern shower heads are estimated to consume half as much water per minute than standard fixtures.
Oil, phosphorous (a major ingredient in many soap products), fertilizers and other toxic pollutants routinely enter our streams, rivers and lakes, rendering them unsafe for consumption. Green renewable energy sources coupled with alternative products with less or even none of these ingredients can make a huge impact.
Just how serious is the situation? Consider this: every person on the planet needs fresh water to survive. There are currently 7.6 billion people. By the end of this century the United Nations predicts it will rise to 11.8 billion, an increase of 4.2 billion (or more than 50 percent). Where will we find 50 percent more fresh water to meet the increased demand?
Perhaps the greatest stress on worldwide fresh water supplies comes from agriculture. On a global scale, farming accounts for 70 percent of fresh water consumption which usually comes from blue water sources such as rivers, lakes and groundwater. Lesser arid regions, those with plentiful rainfall, have an added source known as green water which often comes from evaporation.
In response, many farmers have adopted more efficient irrigation systems that improve the ability to keep water in the soil. The result is abundant yields with lower water consumption and less pollution.
Rainwater harvesting schemes include digging ponds, lakes and canals that allow for expanded water reservoirs as well as installing catching ducts and filtration systems on homes. Untreated, harvested and filtered rainwater can also be utilized for brown water needs such as toilets, home gardening and small scale agricultural irrigation.
The real obstacle, however, is how will all this affect the consumer in the real world? Many worldwide efforts are underway to ensure the earth maintains an ample fresh water supply well into the future and common strategies include pubic outreach campaigns, progressive water rates (charging more for greater consumption) or restricted outdoor use (such as lawn watering and car washing) during periods of low precipitation.
Universal water metering, which varies significantly worldwide, has quickly become a fundamental goal as it would make it difficult to waste water without paying extra fees. In this scenario the water department would monitor water usage by public, domestic and manufacturing services. Citing the fact that crop irrigation accounts for 70 percent of the world’s fresh water usage, many conservationists have suggested these efforts should be directed primarily toward agriculture. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that metering alone can reduce consumption by 20 to 40 percent.
The Clean Water Rule is a 2015 regulation (published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) that was designed to clarify water resource management in the United States under a provision of the Clean Water Act of 1972. It defined the scope of federal water protection in a more consistent manner, particularly over streams that have a significant hydrological and ecological connection to traditional navigable waters, interstate waters and territorial seas. Often referred to as the Waters of the United States rule, which defines all bodies of water that fall under U.S. federal jurisdiction, it was published in response to concerns about the lack of clarity over its scope.
In an odd twist, multi-state litigation, spearheaded by then Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt (who now heads the EPA under President Trump), stayed implementation of the Clean Water Rule by court rulings beginning in 2015. In 2017 the Trump Administration announced its intent to review, revise and even rescind the rule.
In addition, implementation of waste water reuse systems, garden hose nozzles that shut off when not in use, swimming pool covers designed to reduce evaporation and automatic faucets that facilitate hands-free use are all ways for individuals to make a significant difference.
Last but not least, water conservation ideas can also save you money. Using less water will yield a lower water bill, so you and the planet (as well as future generations) all benefit from less water consumption.