I thought I would devote an article to water issues here in the US and how they can and do impact our industry. But first a little side bar; I was visiting my local farmers market recently when I happened upon a young woman, not a model of fashion or health, with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. My son looks at her and to my great horror says “those things will make you cough your lungs out you know” (albeit his tone was concerned and not rude). The young woman didn’t miss a beat and replied with a cavalier grin “well ya gotta die of somethin.” It’s not the first time I’ve heard a smoker say that, and I always wonder if they or anyone is that cavalier about dying when you know they are actually doing the dying part.
My point is this. That young woman isn’t really thinking about dying, she just expects her body to keep on going, keep tolerating whatever treatment she’s giving it and the idea of it ever failing her is not even in her mind. It doesn’t seem to be hurting anything right now so why worry about it. Our views on here in the United States are no different. Whether it’s turning on a tap, buying it by the bottle full, watering our lawns, or washing our cars it’s always there for us and we really can’t fathom it ever failing us but will that always be the case?
The Simplest Answer Is
No. Our water system even here in the United States is over taxed, under funded and under regulated. This compilation of New York Times Articles points out some glaring issues with the United States water supply that I find pretty compelling. The highlights are that 20% of American water treatment plants violate key provisions of the American Water Treatment Act, a 35 year old law that many scientists say is out dated and not comprehensive enough to require treatment of many chemical compounds currently found in our drinking water. Many sewer systems including those in many major metropolitan cities are aging and inadequate causing leakage of toxic chemicals and raw sewage to run in to our waterways or in heavy rainstorms out right back up. There is mutiny among residents if there are tax or rate hikes to try to improve these systems. Think of the disease this issue alone can cause let alone the damage to wildlife needed to sustain a healthy ecosystem along the water ways. Power Plants have been facing more stringent rules from the EPA about carbon being released in to the atmosphere from burning coal to generate electricity. They have now began to release some of this waste in to lakes, streams, and landfills. US Agriculture and/ or CAFO’s (concentrated or confined animal feeding operations) are the largest polluters of Americas water ways or streams according to the EPA. There is a bit of bitter irony to me that the very thing that is supposed to be nourishing us is damaging our water and largely unregulated at this time.
What about Supply?
Beyond the quality of water in the US, more than a third of the US is already facing shortages. In this USGS Map you can see what parts of the US are already facing critical shortages and likely under some strict usage restrictions. I can honestly say, after the flood in May here in Nashville, our largest water treatment plant was completely flooded and out of commission for several weeks. That was the first time in my life I’ve experienced a major restriction aside from washing a car or watering a lawn. In our case we were asked not to use water for anything other than drinking or cooking and all non essential water use like bathing and washing dishes was to be limited and/or eliminated. Imagine how your life would change if such a restriction were to have to be enforced nationally in order to ensure that no one would have to boil water to drink it? Would your view of water now knowing it’s running out and becoming less safe be as cavalier as my friend with the cigarette?
Our Industry Can Have a Huge Impact on Helping this Issue
A major polluter of our water ways is also storm water run off particularly in urban settings. According to the EPA’s Guide to Storm Water Management storm water is simply water that is not absorbed in to the ground during a storm and then runs down streets and impervious surfaces picking up sediments and pollutants that then run through our storm drains and back in to our waterways. A simple solution is designing homes, parks, and buildings with rain catchment systems and more effective landscaping (i.e. rain gardens) and building materials that help the water to absorb through the soil and back in to the ground water supply. All of the major green builder certifications address this key issue (with the exception of Energy Star and that’s coming in 2012) and supporting green building in your area is key. All of them also address water conservation by requiring that shower heads, faucets, and toilets use significantly less water. In addition there are systems such as gray water systems that would allow you to use your sink water to flush your toilet with. Get involved politically on this issue, many city codes departments put up road blocks to builders and consumers who want to have these types of systems. Consider purchasing faucet and shower aerators as closing gifts which can reduce water consumption by as much as 50% without a loss of pressure.
I have heard climetologists predict water becoming the “oil” of the future and I often wonder when, and if that’s an exxageration. I honestly don’t know the answer to that but this I do know. We Americans are incredibly good at denial. My friend the smoker probably has noticed some subtle changes to her body shortness of breath, a nagging cough, loss of taste, changes to skin but no biggie, she’s still plugging along and she will likely not pay attention to any of it until something catastrophic happens perhaps years from now. I believe the planet is already showing symptoms warmer summers, major water shortages on multiple continents including our own, eco system demise and the question is are we listening to her and do we care enough to be a part of the solution or is it going to take a catastrophe?