Water Conservation - The Next Level

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Charlottesville Water Collage Masthead

Attention: Drought warning restrictions are no longer in effect for the City of Charlottesville. For more info on droughts see the Drought Page.

Looking at Water Consumption in a New Way

Just turning off the tap too tame for you?  Want to explore the vast web of water interconnectedness?  This page is an attempt to start you on your journey, oh Jedi of the Water.

The April 2010 issue of National Geographic is all about water!  Some interesting quotes:

"Women in developing countries walk an average of 3.7 miles to get water" ("Fresh Water", pg 56)

"46 Percent of people on earth do not have water piped to their homes" ("Fresh Water", pg 56)

"If the millions of women who haul water long distances had a faucet by their door, whole societies could be transformed." ("The Burden of Thirst", pg 96)



 Fast Facts

(sources are in parentheses)

  • Only one per cent of the total water resources on earth is available for human use ( United Nations).
  • Agriculture uses 2/3 of the world's supply of freshwater (World Water Council). 
  • In the U.S., 1/2 of the water withdrawn from supplies is for energy production (Time Magazine).
  • In parts of the United States, China and India , groundwater is being consumed faster than it is being replenished, and groundwater tables are steadily falling. Some rivers, such as the Colorado River in the U.S. and the Yellow River in China, frequently run dry before they reach the sea ( United Nations). 
  • However, in absolute terms, the United States uses less water now than in 1980.  This is due largely to improved efficiencies in power plants and farms (Fishman, 21).
  • 1.1 billion people live without clean drinking water  (World Water Council).
  • Another 1.8 billion people don't have access to water at home (Fishman, 13).
  • At any one time, half of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from water-borne diseases (United Nations).
  • More than 25 dangerous diseases result from lack of clean water and sanitation; they include cholera, typhoid, amoebic dysentery, campylobacter enteritis, giardiasis, Guinea worm, schistosomiasis, bacillary dysentery and Escherichia coli diarrhea.  This collective group kills more children than HIV / AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined  (Sauer, John. "No-Plumbing Disease." On Tap 9.2 (Summer 2009):38).
    • That's 1.8 million children a year - 5,000 children a day
    • It is the equivalent of all the children in Florida between ages 5 and 12 dying every year (Fishman, 13).
  • For a family of six, collecting enough water for drinking, cooking and basic hygiene may mean hauling heavy water containers from a distant source.  On average, this consumes three hours a day. Women and girls are mainly responsible for fetching the water that their families need.  This limits the opportunity for a woman to earn extra money working outside the home or a daughter to obtain an education (United Nations).
  • "If the typical American had to walk with the hundred gallons of water she herself uses every day - not to mention the hundred gallons that her husband and her children each use - that hundred gallons of water would require twelve round-trips to the well (thirty miles of walking in Jargali) each time carrying sixty-seven pounds of water on her head" (an observation made after the author joined local women in their daily water collection chores in the Indian village of Jargali) (Fishman, 243).


Las Vegas - the Capital City of Prudence and Responsibility

That's right, the city of extravagant fountains, massive indoor aquariums and over sixty golf courses uses the same amount of water in 2009 as it did in 1999, despite a population increase of 685,000 people.

  • 90% of the water used indoors gets recycled.  It is cleaned and either reused in the community or returned to Lake Mead.
  • Strict lawn policies are bringing down outdoor usage.  New homes cannot have turf in the front yard, and in no more than half the yard in back; new commercial businesses cannot have any turf at all. 
  • Golf courses are ripping out high maintenance turf and replacing it with xeriscaping. 
  • Afternoon irrigation and water run off are prohibited.
  • Creativity - businesses that want to install fountains or other water features must use reclaimed water or create massive offsets in some other aspect of their usage (Treasure Island casino fills its lagoon and fountains with water they've reclaimed at their own, onsite wastewater treatment plant.) 

 From The Big Thirst, by Charles Fishman.  See the chapter entitled "Dolphins in the Desert"


What is a Water Footprint?

Water is used in everything - not just taking a shower, but manufacturing, agriculture and energy production.  Your shirt, your lunch and your busy computer all involve water consumption.

Worldwide, the average person has a water footprint of 328,410 gallons per year. 

The average American?  656,012 gallons per year*.

Fill out the questionnaire at Waterfootprint.org and find out your "shoe" size.

*Data from  Thomas M. Kostigan, "Virtual Water - a Smarter Way to think About How Much H2O You Use" Discover Magazine, June 2008


Quantity of water needed to produce 1 kg of:

- wheat: 264 gallons 

- rice: 369 gallons 

- beef: 3,434 gallons

(source: World Water Council


Maybe Global Warming will Save Us!

It is predicted that we will see some places get drier, and others get wetter.  So some of us are going to have even more water to use, right? 

However,  feeling like you come out ahead doesn't mean you really do.  Take a look at this excellent PowerPoint or Flash Movie from  Managing Wholes.com.  Rain that pours down hard and fast will quickly be lost as run-off and evaporation before it can be absorbed as groundwater for our future use (groundwater not only supplies wells, but our streams as well).  So even if the "annual precipitation" number goes up, the amount banked for the future goes down.


Water Irony

"FIJI Water is a miniature miracle of the modern global economy - water from an aquifer on the isolated north coast of Fiji's main island, bottled in a state-of-the-art factory that fills and packs more than a million bottles of water a day, water that then makes its way by truck, cargo container, ship, and even the Panama Canal to [the U.S.]  Meanwhile, more than half the residents of the nation of Fiji do not themselves have safe, reliable drinking water.  Which means it is easier for the typical American living in Beverly Hills or Miami or Manhattan to get a drink of safe, pure, refreshing Fijian water than it is for most people in Fiji" (Fishman, 138).












On Pricing Water and the Need to Maintain Public Infrastructure

"The water bill that the typical home or business gets simply covers the cost of delivering the water.  It costs a huge amount of money to build and maintain reservoirs, pipes, pumps, treatment plants, monitoring systems; to put staff in trucks, in water plants, in testing labs.  And water is heavy stuff.  Moving it, pumping it through treatment membranes and filters in plants, maintaining water pressure in water mains - all requires huge quantities of energy.  Water utilities use 3 percent of the electricity generated in the United States, equal to the output of 162 power plants, making water utilities the largest single industrial users of electricity in the country" (Fishman, 276).

"[O]ur water systems have become like a feature of the natural world, a kind of man-made geography that we have come to believe needs no more attention than a waterfall or a mountain.  It is just the opposite.  Water systems fall behind fast, and catch up slowly, and only with grinding effort.  There is no leapfrogging over an aging water system, the way, for instance, cell phone service or satellite TV service or wireless Internet service allow quick leaps forward.  You can't beam water through the air" (Fishman, 260).


 Great Articles and Books

Fishman, Charles.  The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water.  Free Press, 2011. 

George, Rose. The Big Necessity. Holt Paperbacks, 2008.

 National Geographic. April 2010 : entire issue.

Walsh, Bryan. "Dying for a Drink." Time Magazine, 15 Dec 2008: 46-49.