If we want to reduce human water consumption we must understand its value. As Benjamin Franklin said, "When the well is dry, we know the worth of water."
Twenty-five years ago, I went camping alone along the northwestern shore of Lake Meredith, a man-made reservoir along the Canadian River in the Panhandle of Texas. A relative had dropped me off and agreed to pick me up in three days.
My only companions were white pelicans and rattlesnakes. Although I caught no fish, I had a wonderful time.
By the third day, I had run out of water. I had anticipated this and had brought some purification tablets to add to some of the lake water. I hadn't anticipated just how salty the water was, though. Even though the reservoir was a major source of water for several cities, I hadn't realized just how much treatment was required to make it drinkable.
I still had a long day ahead of me. It was hot, and I was thirsty. I had a map of the area and it showed a windmill a couple of miles away, and it was in the direction I needed to go. I packed up my gear and hiked toward the well.
Finally, the windmill was in sight. The vanes of the windmill were turning, and it was surrounded by a dozen cows. This was good news. "Out of my way, cows, I'm coming through," I muttered through dust-caked lips.
I drank heartily from the rusty iron pipe pouring out liquid life from deep within the earth. I cannot remember a time when I appreciated a drink of water so much.
Today, Lake Meredith is only about two feet above its record low depth set last summer. It has stabilized somewhat only because it is being supplemented with well water pumped from the Ogallala Aquifer, and the aquifer continues to decline, bit by bit.
In our city we now have numerous restrictions on lawn watering, and residents are being encouraged to conserve water and being educated about the different ways to do so. Most try to do the best they can, but we will not really reduce water consumption until we have to.
Our city is now trying something new, a rate structure that encourages conservation by charging more to those who use more. There is a lower base charge, and three rate tiers. There is a rate based on wintertime use, a slightly higher rate to cover basic landscape watering, and a still higher rate for excessive use. A person who conserves water will actually save money, while someone who wastes water will pay more.
We still have a long way to go. Last week I watched in frustration as our city struggled to repair a broken 30 inch water main. It took two days to stop the flow because an unknown connection, never noted in city records, was damaged during some highway construction. Before the flow was stopped, there was a loss of over six million gallons, water from Lake Meredith and the Ogallala Aquifer.
When the water is gone, then it will be too late to do anything about it.