The negligence of water conservation

When it comes to vital importance to survive, Water trumps Energy.   On a society scale, you can’t have one without the other: you need energy to produce clean water and you need water to produce energy (in all cases except solar and wind).  But it seems that energy usually gets the most focus. For the most part this is because:

  • it is currently the main suspect behind climate change
  • more wars are currently fought over energy rather than water (although I think this will change in the not-to-distant future)
  • Energy captures the national attention when gas prices suddenly rise

But for the most part, Energy is a comfort. We use it to get from one place to another, to heat and cool our homes, to heat our water, to light up our spaces and power our electronics.

But we NEED water. We need to drink it to survive. We need a clean supply of it to wash our dishes and remove our waste (or else we attract numerous diseases).

Yet in the developed world clean water is taken for granted. It takes a massive amount of money to build water plants, power them, get that water to everyone’s home, and remove the dirty water once it has been used, but since much of society can’t "see behind the curtain", they’re perfectly content as long as their rate is cheap and it flows from the tap every time it’s turned on.

Back in 2008 most of Georgia (the state where Mapawatt is based) was in a severe drought. The Governor prayed for rain. Newspaper articles were written about the need for a long-term approach to water management. People had to quit watering their lawns and washing their cars. Then the fall of 2009 came and brought with it massive flooding. The worst seen in 90 years. Thankfully the drought was gone, but when it left it took all talk of a sustainable water management program (note how the posts stopped in May of 2009...)  I still can’t imagine why waterless urinals aren’t mandatory in all new building installations. Surely Atlanta's growing population will encounter another drought in the near future?  Yet nobody seems to be planning for our next drought since our lakes are currently full.

Energy gets the spotlight because it is a media hound. It loves attention. It’s the Paris Hilton of the natural resources world. Meanwhile Water just sits quietly in the background. Flowing from our fountains and shower-heads, just waiting until it decides it wants to hog some of Energy’s limelight. At least in the developed world. Half the world (the poor half) could care less about Energy. It doesn’t help them walk the few miles required each day to reach clean water.

As a society, humans dread long-term planning and therefore many of our governments lack sustainable water management programs. We put off anything that doesn’t cause immediate pleasure. Why exercise and eat right when we can sit on the couch and enjoy the Coke and bag of chips right now; heart disease is a long ways off. Why put money in savings when we can blow it on new car; it’s not like the credit card companies are going to cut us off. Why get a house we can afford when we can take out an adjustable rate mortgage and get a much bigger house; the rate doesn’t reset for another 5 years.

Why put policies in place today that wont help us for years down the road? Why not spend that money immediately?

We value a current small comfort much more than a potential large pain in the future.

And this line of thinking is great....until heart disease comes, credit card companies call in their debt, and the bank wants their house back.

In the financial world there is this concept that a guy named Nassim Taleb calls a "Black Swan"; which refers to an event that is very unexpected and has a low probability of happening but when it happens has a huge disruptive influence.  The Internet and Sept. 11 are examples of "Black Swans".  I feel that many countries are marching towards a "Black Swan" of a severe and crippling water shortage, yet they are extremely ill-prepared for this event .

At Mapawatt we’ve been guilty of focusing on Energy more than Water, but we plan on putting up more posts on the topic of water conservation. Water is vital to survival, and with human’s propensity to procreate the static supply of fresh-water will only decrease as our population increases.

If you have any good ideas on future blog topics, please post them in the comments below. Write in to your local newspapers and bug your politicians about a sustainable long-term water conservation plan for your community. God forbid you will have to quit watering your lawn :)

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I recently installed a dual-flush adapter kit in our toilet tanks. The handle is replaced with a round knob with 2 buttons on it for small and large (1.6 gal.) flushes. I got mine at a local ACE hardware store - it cost $25.00 and was very simple to install. It took about 20 minutes, and the only tool needed was a pair of channel locks. You do have to read the instructions carefully. They claim that a family of 4 can save over 15,000 gallons/year!

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