By: Jennifer Croft
Yes, you read that correctly. Water isn’t a right. Where on earth did we get that idea? It’s a luxury and we need to appreciate it. Equally important–we need to talk about it, share stories, and bring those stories to life.
Is studying water, or talking about it, boring? If so, why? Water is life. How can it be boring?
How do we do without it? Water IS life. We can’t do without it. So why do people roll their eyes or glaze over when it comes up in conversation? Worse yet, why does it come up in conversation so infrequently?
We talk about water when there is a drought. We talk about it when there is an emergency (think Flint, Michigan), but the rest of the time we don’t talk about it much at all.
The general belief here in the United States seems to be that because we need it and because we are used to having it that we will always have it. The reality is that that is simply not the case.
Other countries haven’t had the luxury of clean, easily available water. They don’t take it for granted. We shouldn’t either.
The failing infrastructure in this country should draw attention to the fact that cheap, clean water is not guaranteed. In order to have clean water we need a structurally-sound conveyance system. We may have had that 50 years ago, but we do not any longer. The pipes carrying both clean water and waste water are often 50 years old or older and are deteriorating. Pipes are rupturing everywhere which interrupts the flow of water. Cities are grappling with how to resolve these problems and how to pay for it.
The cities most affected by water main breaks are the cities with the oldest pipes—generally cities in the Midwest to eastern United States. Kansas City, MO reports a ten-year average of 75 breaks just for the month of June and a record high of 131 breaks.
These old pipes that are rupturing will need to be replaced. New technology can help, but there will still be costs to cover. These costs will be covered by increases to the cost of water. That increased cost to the consumer may be mitigated by increased conservation, but that causes a problem in and out itself, which California is currently experiencing.
Conservation leads to the use of less water. The sale of less water by a utility leads to less revenue. The replacement and/or repair costs remain the same but now there is less revenue to pay for those repairs. You see the problem.
There isn’t any easy solution to this problem. What we are likely to see in the future is an ongoing movement towards conservation and reduced use along with price increases.
Even if you live in the eastern United States where there traditionally has been no shortage of water, or the western United States where there traditionally is a shortage, there will need to be changes in the future. Conveyance systems for both fresh and waste water will need to be replaced and paid for.
Don’t take fresh clean water for granted. Contrary to frequent headlines, it isn’t a right—it’s a luxury. The United States is looking to successful programs outside of the country for guidance. Israel, a dry desert country, has a surplus of water due to its stringent water regulations, forward-thinking water planning, and technology practices. We must follow suit.
Industry thought-leaders and writers need to make a subject of water more interesting. The public needs to become more aware and invested in making changes. The public needs to understand that a financial investment is necessary and plan accordingly. Water prices must go up. Either the public is going to pay them directly, or the government will, but that will be recovered through increased taxes.
Private industry is stepping up to do its part. The beer industry is actively working to reduce its consumption of fresh water. Molson Coors has a dedicated mission statement devoted to Environmental Stewardship. McDonalds Corporation calls theirs Water Stewardship.
Colleges and Universities are offering majors in Environmental studies, including water management. The University of Colorado in Boulder, a leading university in environmental sciences, created a free MOOC Coursera class (Massive Open Online Course) in 2015 entitled “Water in the Western United States”. It could be considered a Water101 class providing a basic understanding of the ecology of water, and the legal, political, and cultural issues facing water usage. The class was aimed at both students experienced in the water industry and novices.
Water isn’t boring and neither are the solutions to our problems. What has been boring has been our approach to discussing it. We can change that and writing about it is a start. It’s time for more people to help get the word out.
Let’s start with education—right at home. Talk to your family (all of them) about the importance of water and the need to conserve it. Everyone needs to understand that it’s not guaranteed that fresh water will automatically arrive at your kitchen sink. The Navajo have a Facebook page devoted to discussing their issues on the reservation. One story describes water being delivered to their homes by truck once a week.
Businesses need to be supported and encouraged to improve their water efficiencies and develop new technologies. Municipalities need to be encouraged, and perhaps pushed, to install new technologies to improve wastewater treatment. There is a growing movement to view wastewater as a resource and success stories need to be shared. King County, WA converts nutrient-rich biosolids into fertilizer and resells the product.
While oil has been the lifeblood of the world economy for the 20th Century, the future belongs to water. Let’s make it a story worth telling and worth sharing.
For more information:
Flint, Michigan, NBC
Global water shortages, Huff Post
Failing Infrastructure, American Water Works Association
Water main breakage, KSHB 4 MO
Conservation equals higher costs, NY Times
Water Surplus, The Jewish Chronicle
Molson Coors, Environmental Stewardship
McDonalds Water Stewardship
Navajo Nation, Facebook
Wastewater as a Resource, King County