Tuesday, November 8, 2016


The Economist wrote another excellent article this week about how water is used across the world. It makes the case very clear that water management is a vital issue which is not getting nearly enough attention, and water reclamation strategies and other methods to maintain our global water supply are needed.

There are numerous ways we can fight water waste. The first thing I think we can do right now is price water appropriately. There are the concerns of spiking water bills which could hurt poor people (if we do it wrong), and there is merit to such concerns. I personally see this as like other important environmental issues, like how to manage global warming, and figuring out how to manage our resources best. When water is too cheap people have fewer incentives to save water, which means we deplete our aquifers faster than we should. People are less likely to fix breaks in their line when it is less expensive, and will take longer to fix the problem. People are also less likely to purchase low-water use toilets. Not having these policies in place creates waste and depletes our aquifers. The EPA has excellent information on water conservation and how to save money at home. The increase in price can easily be offset and more through a universal basic income to raise people out of poverty and the combination of these policies will make it so people can make better decisions about how we consume resources.

The second way we can reduce waste stems from the increased price of my first point. Having water be more expensive will force heavy water users, in the agriculture and electric power industries, to implement methods to reduce their consumption. Catching runoff from farms is an efficient method to preserve our water supply. This will help our aquifers last in the long run.

Third, reducing our use of coal powered plants and other dirty fuels will help reduce water consumption. 41.5% of American water consumption is currently for such uses. There is literally no reason to keep using coal plants in the United States. They are destroying our air quality, heating our planet, and squandering our water supplies. We can fight both global warming and preserve waterat the same time by shutting these plants down. We need to switch to a fully renewable economy as soon as possible.

Fourth, we currently waste a gigantic amount of water by letting our sewage run off into the ocean. Sewage can be recycled to the point where it is safe to drink by people again. The water after being sanitized is as safe as coming from an aquifer and creates a more closed loop to reduce water consumption. New York alone dumps 1.3 billion gallons of treated wastewater into the ocean per day. (Finding a total amount for the entire US or even the world is challenging.) This should be reused to maintain our aquifers.

Fifth, catching rainwater in cities (I live in Seattle, so this is a huge amount for us) and recycling it into our pipes is an efficient way to gather water which does not deplete our aquifer. Houses can do this as well, using the water from the rain to fill their hot water tanks, further reducing demand on aquifers. For people who live in the country where water is from private wells this is a significant amount.

The last big way I can think of reducing water consumption is at home. Homes use 8.5% of water taken from aquifers, the third largest source after agriculture and fossil fuel power plants. First of all, heating homes can be done more efficiently through heated floors which are more comfortable and keep houses at a constant temperature throughout the day. Heated Floors which are heated from wastewater from sinks and tubs. It will be a closed system which keeps using the same water until some is used for toilets. Toilet water will be from the water which is used from the heated floors. Water would leave the system at the toilet. Such a system would drastically reduce water consumption.

The United States has made an incredible amount of progress over the last 50 years with treating sewage before dumping it into the ocean, and this must be recognized. There is however still a lot of work to do in order to protect our environment. Fighting the consumption of fossil fuels is of course a top priority, but reducing consumption of water is also extremely important. With good policy and public pressure on our governments from the city to federal level, and across the world, we can preserve our water use for future generations and keep our planet habitable.

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