Many of us don't think about how much water it takes to do everyday household tasks such as washing a load of laundry or taking a quick shower.
But what if fresh water wasn't so easy to get? According to LiveEarth, almost one billion people worldwide live without access to clean, safe drinking water.
Among many factors, pollution from industrial and household contaminants as well as changing weather patterns threaten water supplies globally, while shortages in parts of the U.S. have lead to enforced rationing in many heavily populated areas, such as Los Angeles.
Thirty-seven years ago, the Clean Water Act put in place the basic structure for regulating pollutants in water and setting a quality of standard. But according to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in a hearing before the House of Representatives, "we have a long way to go."
What Advocates Are Saying
Earth911.com sought feedback from renowned water advocate Alexandra Cousteau, as well as musician Pete Wentz and actress Jessica Biel as they promote LiveEarth's international water conservation project. So what are some of the real implications of the water crisis? Here's what they had to say:
Jessica Biel: "Like most of us, water is not something I've thought about through most of my life - it's just an ordinary part of an ordinary day. You turn on the faucet or get in the shower and it's there. Then the severity of the global water crisis became apparent, and the reality was startling. I'm changing the way I live because this isn't a problem for 'them' or for 'those.' It's a problem for 'us' and 'we.'"
Pete Wentz: "It's mind-blowing to me that around the world, people are dying simply because they do not have access to clean water. And these are regular kids, just like my son."
Alexandra Cousteau: "Access to safe water is one of the defining issues in the progress of women and girls. In a significant number of cultures around the world, women are the water-bearers, meaning that if a member of the family has to skip school or miss out altogether on an education in order to make the daily treks for water, it's typically one or all of the daughters."
What's in the Headlines
From local pollution and droughts to conservation efforts and legislation, water is a hot topic in the environmental sector. Here's a quick rundown of the most-talked-about stories:
- Researchers from Columbia University found that the Southeast U.S. drought that lasted from 2005 to 2007 was due to severe water shortages as a result of population growth, rather than rainfall patterns. Figures show that in Georgia alone, the population rose to 9.54 million in 2007 from 6.48 million in 1990.
- A major drought in East Africa has been a top source of conflict as climate refugees begin to migrate and crowd larger areas. Organizations such as Oxfam and Cafod have launched emergency appeals.
- In Jackson's latest address on water conservation, she said more innovative approaches will be taken to address "the most serious violations." According to The New York Times, this will most likely include mining companies, large livestock farms, municipal wastewater treatment plants and construction companies operating on sites with polluted stormwater runoff.
- After a three-year drought in California that has resulted in forest fires and extreme water shortages, officials are now tossing around the idea of restoring the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, a collection of channels, natural habitats and islands that is a major source of the state’s drinking water. According to reports, it would be the largest environmental restoration project in the U.S., surpassing the effort underway in the Florida Everglades.
How You Can Help
The best way to make a difference is by simply changing your mindset: Instead of thinking of your tap water as an infinite resource, think of it as having limits.
"When it comes to trying understand the challenges to understand water, I really think we focus too much on 'scarcity.' Water is, and always has been, scarce," Cousteau says. "The truth is, we really need to go back to grade school Earth Science class and remember that water on the planet exists in an interconnected cycle."
To put things into perspective, check out your own water footprint. Not only will you find out how much water you use on a day-to-day basis, but you will also learn how to save it by making simple changes in your diet or lifestyle.
There are several other ways to reduce your water consumption while saving big bucks on your bills:
1. You don't have to buy it.
Americans consume an estimated 1,500 water bottles per second. However, our tap water systems are regulated for drinking purposes, so fill up your reusable bottle for on-the-go refreshment. You can fill up to five, one-gallon jugs with water from your tap for about one cent.
2. Load it up.
A large percentage of our water is wasted in the laundry room. The average washing machine uses about 41 gallons per load, so always make sure you get the most bang for your buck and fill your clothes to the brim. For extra points, install an ENERGY STAR-certified washer.
3. When in doubt, go low-flow.
The average faucet flows at a rate of two gallons per minute, and a five-minute shower uses 10 to 25 gallons of water. Consider installing a low-flow showerhead or aerator on your sink. You don't need a complete bathroom remodel to start saving.
4. Take it outside.
According to the EPA, the typical single-family suburban household uses at least 30 percent of its water outdoors for irrigation. Try watering your lawn in the morning or the evening when it's cool outside. This will cut down on evaporation due to sunlight and heat.
5. Plug the leak.
Leaky faucets that drip at the rate of one drip per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons of water each year. To check for a leak, read your water meter before and after a two-hour period when no water is being used. If the meter does not read exactly the same, you probably have a leak. To tell if your toilet has a leak, place a drop of food coloring in the tank. If the color shows in the bowl without flushing, it's time to call a plumber!
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