Water Sustainability

Written by: Scott Matula, Naturalist

When we think of water in most cases, we are reminded of the lines from The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner in which the mariner himself speaks, “Water, water, everywhere but not a drop to drink.” This is spoken because of his predicament of being stalled in the middle of the sea with no winds to push he and his ragged companions forth through the endless blue. Parched beyond belief as they set beneath the burning sun, all of their fresh water exhausted. Nothing left but the deep blue salinity that surrounds and traps them. How far are we from this predicament?

About 71% of the Earth’s surface is water. The oceans hold about 96.5% of all Earth’s water. Water also exists in water vapor, lakes, rivers, ice caps, glaciers, in the ground as soil moisture, and in aquifers far beneath our feet. About 97% of all the water on earth is in the oceans and thus it is too salty to drink. That leaves us with 3%. Of that 3%, 2.5% is unavailable because it is locked up in glaciers, polar ice caps, soils, vapor in the air, sits too far below the Earth’s surface to reach, or is polluted. Only .5% of the Earth’s water is drinkable fresh water. If we were to look at all of the world’s water as 100 liters, our fresh water supply would be about 0.003 liter (about one-half table spoon) would be usable.

If we look at just the United States, about 8% is used domestically; drinking, cooking, washing, watering lawns, etc. 33% is used agriculturally, for crops, and livestock. Over 600 gallons per day per person in the U.S. is being diverted from natural aquatic sources for farm irrigation and livestock use. And over half the people in the US are getting their water from these same natural underground sources.

We as individuals can help curtail this use of water by doing what we can to not waste it. Turn off the faucets when brushing your teeth or shaving. Make those long showers an occasional luxury. Put in low-flow toilets. Begin watching the amounts you use for cooking. How much goes down the drain? Wash dishes by hand instead of the dish washer. Make sure your loads of clothes are full and remember, sometimes you don’t even need to wash some things every time you wear them.

Look for and repair leaks. A small leak can waste thousands of gallons of water a year. Your lawn usually needs far less water than what you put on it. We use about a third more water in the summer because we water our lawns. There are about ten million acres of lawns in the US which require 270 billion gallons of water every week. That’s enough water to give every person on earth a shower four days in a row. Install a timer and set it not to run every day and skip those precious days of rain. Most lawns only require about an inch of water a week anyway. Don’t let me leave out washing our cars. We all like a shiny car but does it really need to be washed every week? 

There are places on earth where water is same the word as blood. Simply because water is the lifeblood of everything on the planet. The first thing we look for on another planet to find possible life is water.

Don’t look at water as a resource, look at it as a source. The source of all life.