by Lizzie Jespersen
All throughout high school and college, I was known for taking ridiculously long showers. They were my space of solace – I’d turn on music and let the hot water pour over me, watching droplets bead on my skin as the world on the other side of the curtain slipped away. Nothing else mattered, least of all the amount of water I’d consume each time I stepped across the shower threshold.
Even as I began to immerse myself in the world of conservation and in learning how to put these ethics into practice, it took time for me to connect my water use with the greater picture. I don’t think my experience is unique – water isn’t typically the first thing we think about when we hear the word conservation.
But if we want to have enough, that has to change.
The simplistic water cycle that we were all taught in grade school neglected a truth that many parts of our country are now learning all too well: while water is infinite, clean fresh water is not. Especially not when it comes to the fresh water in a specific region or watershed.
As rapidly growing populations are compounded against drought, climate change and the immense amount of water that has already been promised through prior appropriation permits, applying the conservation ethic to our daily water use is as important now as it ever will be. Without acting today to inspire a real cultural change in the ways in which our country uses water, we’re robbing our earth and our future generations of the precious, life-giving waters that make everything possible.
When water isn’t used efficiently, we’re forced to turn to expensive infrastructure projects to help supply enough water to meet our (often wasteful) demands. These projects typically involve damming a river or capturing its water in another way, and then storing it elsewhere for our use.
Here’s what’s wrong with this picture: when we remove water from a river, that water isn’t on loan. It’s gone. Our rivers need a certain amount of water in them to be able to support the many fish, critters, waterfowl and other wildlife that deeply depend upon them. Without enough water, wildlife populations suffer – and that extends all the way to our bays, where fresh water is just as essential as it is upstream.
Unfortunately, human needs are almost always put first in the race for fresh water – as if the decision to do so won’t cripple us in the long term. We need to stop acting as if there’s a choice to be made between human use and water for wildlife. When rivers and wildlife suffer, so do we. There’s no way around it.
Conservation is the only real way to create a sustainable future in which every interdependent piece of the puzzle – rivers, bays, humans and wildlife – wins. And luckily for us, the power is in our hands.
While we will need policy changes to make wise water use an imperative, our water future doesn’t lie solely in closed-door meetings and bureaucratic games. Anybody can practice water conservation. It’s as easy as making small changes in our daily lives, using our wallets to support efficient water use, and leveraging our influence to advocate for wiser water practices.
Water conservation starts at home
A big part of conserving water is taking small, simple steps to change our habits. Start with the easy things: turn off your faucet while you lather up your hands or brush your teeth; don’t run the dishwasher unless it’s all the way full; take a slightly shorter shower.
The great thing about water conservation is that the most efficient use of water is usually also the cheapest approach. Making the initial investment in water-efficient appliances, or paying to monitor and replace leaky pipes, saves money and water in the long term.
If you have a yard to call your own, you can make a big difference without much effort. Lawns are huge water hogs, especially because few people water them efficiently. Making a change is as easy as watering less frequently (once or twice a week during the summer for hot regions, and even less the rest of the year), avoiding watering the lawn in the middle of the day, and mowing the lawn less often (allowing roots to grow deeper and absorb more water). Look into your region’s native plants – these are your friends.
Support water-friendly businesses
When it comes to purchasing items that require water-intensive production processes, take the time to do some research into companies that are making an effort to save water. For example, if you’re a coffee drinker, look into shade-grown coffee beans; if you’re a beer drinker, look for breweries that are reusing water or conserving it in other ways.
Advocate for conservation principles
Take a proactive stance for water and wildlife by talking to your water utility and encouraging them to take steps to prioritize water conservation. Learn more about how water supply decisions are made in your region or state; get involved in the planning process, or speak up when there’s a proposed water project that unwisely takes water from rivers and wildlife.
Perhaps most importantly, you can be an advocate by sharing what you know about water conservation with your friends, family and communities. Make water conservation habits a part of your everyday life, and explain to others why you do the things you do. Stand up for our rivers, our wildlife and our future by doing the little things every day that add up to a cultural shift towards wiser water use. And don’t wait for tomorrow to begin – start today.