By MARY BETH HORIAI
Without water there is no “green” and there is no “living.” The connection between food, energy and everything we care about depends upon water. Its magical presence makes up the majority of our bodies, flows through our rivers and streams, fills our oceans, evaporates invisibly and then falls on us again from the sky.
Yet even with the abundance of water, covering 71 percent of our planet, we are experiencing extreme droughts on nearly every continent and here at home.
How did we get here? Not suddenly, that’s for sure. It is year 14 for the Colorado Basin drought.
Over that same amount of time, Lake Mead has dropped 140 feet. We’ve all seen photos of the shocking “bathtub ring.”
The combination of continued reduced snowfall in the Rockies and increased evaporation because of higher average temperatures contributes to a declining water supply. Also, an increase in population and consumption simply expedites the decline.
Unlike California, Nevada started conservation measures decades ago. But are we really taking it as seriously as we should and is it enough?
Making every drop Count
When I first moved to Japan, I remember how difficult it was to get used to sharing the same hot bathwater with my husband’s large family. Japanese bathing practices are as follows: Bathers scrub themselves clean outside the bath, using a bucket of water for lathering and rinsing off before entering the bath.
Not being accustomed to this conservation method, I was always allowed to go first as to have the most pristine water (phew). The next day, my mother-in-law would transfer buckets of bathwater from the night before into the washing machine for the first cycle.
My husband’s upbringing was so different than mine. As a child, he used waterless, outhouselike toilets with no fancy air fresheners to mask the smell. He remembers washing homegrown vegetables and brushing his teeth in the cool stream near their home.
His parents still adhere to many of their conservation practices even though they have indoor plumbing and no water restrictions in their area.
When I was a child, my father always encouraged us to save energy by reminding us to turn off lights that weren’t being used (remnants of the Depression era, perhaps). Water never crossed my mind as anything but abundant and everywhere.
The great respect and care my husband’s family shows toward water usage in the home and in fields has always impressed me. I feel challenged to question my own habits.
How thirsty are We?
The average American home uses 12,000 gallons of water a month (400 gallons a day) for drinking, cleaning, hygiene, plant growth and recreation. Water also is a necessity in energy production, adding another 39,000 gallons a month to the average household water footprint (depending on what source of energy your home uses, fossil fuel and nuclear having the highest water footprint).
Finally, water is critical for industries that produce everything we touch, eat, drink or use. This is a bit harder to calculate, but this National Geographic site, http://tinyurl.com/ba8lfxq, can help calculate your household water footprint.
California plans to implement strong restrictions to reduce water consumption by 25 percent. This is aimed at reducing individual use, which makes up only a small percentage of the water footprint. Hydraulic fracturing and farming are exempt from the new water use restrictions.
According to the Pacific Institute, 47 percent of all water is used directly for the meat and dairy industry. Another 46 percent is for agriculture, which lets California provide the rest of the country with 90 percent of its fruits, nuts and vegetables. Almonds, needing water year round, have been singled out as a big culprit. However, the largest portion of California’s agricultural water use is for alfalfa (hay) used as livestock feed.
Last month, at the signing of the governor’s Nevada Drought Forum executive order, Gov. Brian Sandoval claimed Nevada is much better off than California. Although our state leaders’ mood was congratulatory toward Nevada’s efforts up to this point, the Silver State and the region still have an arduous task ahead.
Southern Nevadans are paying $1.5 billion for, literally, “last straw” attempts to drain every last drop from Lake Mead. The third and last intake tunnel is due to go on line this summer and will be aided by a previously unimaginable pumping station that will pump water from the very bottom of Lake Mead referred to as “dead pool.”
This effort will take five years to complete and will need the energy equivalent of 14,000 Nevadan homes to operate. It seems it may be too early to pat ourselves on the back.
In Deep Water
How much water are we really willing to conserve and live without? What about our water use habits that we have established over our lifetimes? Are we really willing to change?
There are many things we can all do or more appropriately, not do. Here are the most obvious:
- Eat less water-intensive food.
- Use less energy.
- Buy less.
- Turn off water while brushing teeth, shampooing, shaving or hand-washing dishes.
- Fix leaks.
- Skip showers or take shorter showers.
- If it’s yellow, let it mellow (a phrase that refers to selective toilet flushing).
- Start teaching the next generation of water users.
- Lose the lawn!
Years ago my family participated in the SNWA’s Water Smart Landscapes Rebate program. In exchange for turning off our sprinklers and changing our beautiful lawns to desert landscaping we were credited nearly $500. (rebate was $2 per sq. ft., now $1.50). The materials and work cost us about half of the rebate so we still came out ahead and enjoyed a 75 percent decrease in our future water bills.
It’s time to look at the big picture not just our water bills. The food we eat and the things we use in our homes affect our future water supply. If one hamburger needs 660 gallons of water, more than the average American’s total daily household use, then maybe it’s time to get our protein elsewhere.
John Entsminger, the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s general manager, warns, this is “no time to rest on our laurels.” Let’s collectively do whatever it takes, come hell or high water.