Two Surprising Ways to Save Water
Home Water Use is Just a Drop in the Bucket
Much of the western United States is currently battling an unprecedented drought with severe consequences looming on the horizon. Over a dozen communities in California face the possibility of completely running out of water by mid-2014, and Nevada is in a race against time to complete a new water intake valve before the rapidly dwindling Colorado River drops so low that the state is no longer able to draw water from the existing intake.
So what's an eco-conscious consumer in the western states to do? The experts suggest turning off the tap water when brushing our teeth, watering our lawns less and getting energy-efficient dishwashers and washing machines. All of these are excellent ideas that we should definitely heed. There's only one problem - only a small fraction (about 2%) of all freshwater water usage in the US is used in daily home activities like these. The vast majority of water in our country is used by two industries. Here's where the rest of the water is going and what you can do about it.
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1. Save Energy, Save Water - The hidden cost of electricity
Where does most of the water used each day in the US go? It might surprise you to know that the electric industry is responsible for the greatest majority of water withdrawals. Nuclear and fossil fuel plants use about 200 billion gallons of water per day, or close to half of the 410 billion gallons of water withdrawn from all water sources every day, according to the US Geological Survey (see chart above). And that number is going to keep going up. The World Energy Council estimates that water consumption to create electricity will more than double in the next 40 years.
The good news is that water used for electric power production is often returned to the water bodies from where it was taken. So it's often not even included in discussions about water use. But if the water needed to produce electricity is going to double in the next 40 years, how are we going to come up with that water?
If smog, the fear of climate change and high electric bills aren't enough reasons to be conserving energy already, the added threat of water shortages makes the issue even more pressing. National Geographic says that the typical American relies on 670 gallons of water every day simply for energy production. The EPA says it takes 3000 - 6000 gallons of water to power a single light bulb for 12 hours a day for a year. Startling? Then about about this statistic? An article in Earth Techling quotes a report from the Oregon-based River Network that says an average home "takes an average of 39,829 gallons of water to meet our monthly energy use, five times more than our direct residential use of water."
So if we want to save our water, we need to save energy. It's that simple. Shutting off electronics when nobody's using them, installing energy-efficient lights and appliances, and taking other steps to reduce your energy use is a good first step. It won't, of course, help you convince your water agency that you're conserving water to meet voluntary or mandatory reduction goals, and it's not immediately going to mean more water in your local district. But it will help slow the increase in water needed to generate power for an electricity-hungry population.
Water Use Per Person, Per Day
2. Change Your Diet, Save Water
Smart food and product choices can help you conserve
If you remove the electric industry, crop irrigation is by far the largest single source of water use in the United States. Each day, irrigation consumes 128 billion gallons of water. Of course, we all need food to eat, but the amount of water required to create various types of food and crops varies greatly. You can help save water by learning more about the relationship between water and the food you eat.
But it's really not as simple as saying, "Don't eat beef." Medical doctors, animal rights advocates and sustainability experts have long touted the benefits of a vegetarian diet, and there are, indeed, many benefits to this lifestyle, including the ability to grow food with less water. But water is required to make just about everything we eat, drink and use.
Want a glass of wine with dinner? It takes 1008 gallons of water to create a gallon of wine. How about some fries with your meal? That'll cost you 119 gallons for a pound of potatoes. And what about some ice cream for dessert? A gallon of milk requires 880 pounds of water to produce, much of it due to irrigation water needed to grow food for the cows. (See The Hidden Water We Use on National Geographic for these and other food breakdowns.)
So what do all these numbers mean? Should you give up beef, wine and ice cream completely? No. You don't need to throw away your entire lifestyle overnight. But understanding the complex relationship between food and water will help you make more informed choices. There's a cost to everything we eat, buy and use, and that cost isn't distributed equally. The T-shirt you're wearing took 713 gallons of water to create, but the savings by not buying another one might be in India, China or Guatemala. Much of the food you eat, however, is grown here in the US, so your eating choices are likely to have a greater local impact. By becoming aware of the water required for the food you eat, you can help conserve water right here where we need it the most.
If you've got an iPhone, be sure to check out the Virtual Water app. Created by the Virtual Water Project, this app that can help you become more aware of the hidden water we use every day, not just in the food we eat, but also the clothes we wear and other products we use.
The Global Water Crisis - How Much Do We Really Use Every Day?
Have you ever wondered how much water you really use every day? This video will make you think about the hidden ways in which we consumer this precious natural resource.
Read More - Good books to help you learn more about the relationship between food, water and lifestyle choices
Understanding what we eat and how it impacts our bodies and our world may change the way you view food. But don't take my word for it. Check out some of these popular books written by experts.
Selected as one of the New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of the Year, this bestseller examines what we eat and why.
A classic bestseller that examines how fast food has changed the way Americans eat.
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