Water is the stuff of life.
Water makes up between 55 and 80 percent of our bodies and is an essential ingredient of life as we know it. Yet it is one that we in the developed world take largely for granted. We turn on the tap or faucet and there it is - clean and safe to drink.
But fresh water is a scarce resource. From space, our planet appears as a blue world, mostly covered in water. Appearances are deceptive however as only a very small proportion is fresh water (around 2.5 percent). Potable water, the high quality "stuff of life" that we can consume without risk of harm, is scarcer still.
With nearly all the potable water in the developed world used for purposes other than drinking and food preparation, it is a tragedy that more than 1.1 billion people (WHO: 2002 lack access to improved water. Access to clean water is one of the primary drivers of public health and a major cause of the discrepancies in life expectancy between the developed and developing world.
With the world's population projected to grow to more than 8 billion people by 2025 (UN: 2008, competition for such a scarce and vital resource is only likely to worsen. Climate change is expected to cause a decline in water from glaciers and snow cover and increase the frequency and duration of droughts (IPCC WG2 AR4 2007 and exacerbate the situation. What is often viewed as a developing world problem is likely to envelope the developed world within the next generation.
What can we do as individuals?
Clearly, profligate waste of a precious resource is a recipe for disaster. Governments can put in place conservation measures such as water restrictions and impose financial penalties, however the onus is on us as individuals to play our part.
1 - Education
The first step in any solution is to understand that there is a problem. An understanding of water scarcity, the water cycle and the likely impacts of changes through population growth, climate change and land use changes help to motivate changes in behavior;
2 - Reduce
Most developed countries have water restrictions and/or charge for water consumption. Water charges are traditionally kept very low, however reducing consumption can generate significant cost savings. Simple measures such as reduced flow shower heads and faucets, on-demand hot water systems, dual flush cisterns and regular maintenance of fittings can substantially reduce household water consumption. Behavioral changes such as shorter showers and turning the tap off when you wet your toothbrush or soap up your hands, using the water saver settings (where available) of dishwashers and washing machines, drought-proofing your garden through the use of mulches and drought tolerant plants, and using car washes that use recycled water can reduce water use further. The Water: Use It Wisely website offers plenty of good ideas and tips to help you save water;
3 - Recycle
Government may provide incentives to utilize grey water or to install rain water tanks. Use buckets to collect water in showers, hand-washing and waste cooking/drinking water. Outside the home, ensure kerb-side drains are clear and garden fertilizer use is kept to a minimum. This helps keep storm water as clean as possible and minimizes pollution (and consequent treatment costs) in creeks, rivers and dams; and
4 - Innovate
Some areas offer grants for water conservation innovations. Check with your local authorities as many are geared at commercial and agribusiness enterprizes. With increasing focus on water conservation, household innovations represent a significant niche market for the entrepreneur. Devices already on the market include flow diverters, drip irrigation systems for household gardens, slim-line water tanks for small areas, water efficient toilets and water retaining mulch blocks. Savewater and American Water & Energy Savers provide links to new products on the market.
Water is no longer the limitless resource that we have for so long taken for granted. It is expensive to make potable and is likely to experience increasing pressure from the challenges of a growing population, climate change and land use changes. Water restrictions are a feature of many developed world economies and are likely to become even more so in the future.
This precious resource needs to be carefully managed and it is not just the responsibility of governments. At an individual level, we can all do our bit to help and following the simple steps outlined above will help to preserve this resource for the generations to come.