With melting icecaps, rising sea level, flashfloods and severe droughts making news in the media every other day, the Blog Community has come up with an interesting idea “that unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day with the aim of sparking a global discussion and driving collective action” called the Blog Action Day.
In order to minimize our impact on water, let’s view water as a large resource, and then break it down into small stages in the way water has helped humanity expand; based on its availability (for all living things), productivity (for agriculture and irrigation) and further human development (urbanization). The earth’s surface is covered in 70.9% water, with oceans holding 97% of surface water, 2.4% in solar ice caps and 0.6% in lakes, rivers and ponds. To some terrestrial organisms, including us, we only have this 0.6% of water available as a direct, cheap resource. Now when you look at the percentage, it really doesn’t make any sense to consider the available water as a “large resource” over the larger resource it is a part of.
Let’s have a look at how water helped us prosper. Many centuries ago, humans and other living things shared land as well as water with one another (availability). Over decades, we explored the benefits of freshwater and started growing crops – consuming the water as well as the fertile lands (productivity). This gave rise to development; hence it is not surprising to see that the early civilizations were mostly built around a water source. As we continued to exploit water, some civilizations flourished over this abundant resource, many perished, while some parts of the world were left behind in droughts. This has happened in the past due to natural changes in geology or atmosphere, but today, it is realized that it is also due to human intervention with the natural water-cycle, such as building of dams and deforestation. The rains have increased where it rained more than enough and the rains have disappeared forever where it rained scarcely. A recent study suggests that “large swaths of Earth are in fact drying up”.
Today, this linearity cannot be viewed as a sustainable way of living anymore. This causes drastic disturbances in some parts of the world, such as drying of Aral Sea in Kazakhstan and Eucumbene Lake in Australia and unfortunately, it’s not only the water that flows back into the seas or aquifers, but tones of insecticides, pesticides and other chemicals with it.
To solve these problems, there are many organizations trying hard to mend this straight line of unsustainable use of water and join both the ends. And thankfully, we don’t need to be an expert to help achieve it. All we need to do is be aware, and view the environment as a resource we share with other living creatures – from your children and their future, to the worms in your backward and the whales in the oceans. I’d like to discuss a few basic things (also discussed in another article) that we as citizens of this world can follow (I welcome additional input):
· Ban bottled water: It’s strongly recommended to stop using bottled water, for reasons such as plastic pollution, unnecessary treatment of water as well as due to the presence harmful chemicals in the plastic. Instead, buy water bottles which can be refilled n number of times. In Canada, there is a public awareness program to encourage usage of tap water, since Canada is known to have potable drinking water supply straight from the tap. If you are extra cautious, use a tap filter, or simply boil the water.
· Buy organic products: Even the food you eat has a significant impact on water. Food grown under minimal or no use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides is considered organic and it has less impact on the environment than intensive agriculture. If many people start buying organic products, we indirectly encourage farmers to opt for organic agriculture, thus we lower the chances of pesticides and fertilizers entering our water systems. Watch Food Inc. if you ever get a chance.
· Harvest water: It is a great way to conserve water in all parts of the world, but many don’t realize it yet. For example, Mumbai receives a lot of rain, but I’m surprised to find that only a fraction of this is actually conserved through water harvesting, and most of it enters drainage systems, or the lakes. The best case is my home back in Mumbai, where they have now put up a roof over the terrace; instead, I think they should have put some water harvesting structures, which would definitely solve problems of water shortage in odd seasons! In Canada, especially the suburbs can have their own water harvesting structures that will make it way easier to manage water, thus relying less on the water from the lakes.
· Permeable surfaces: Such surfaces help water that falls on the land to percolate underground. It usually happens naturally, but in urban landscapes, where most of the ground is paved, using permeable pavements is of a great help. Again, I’d like to talk about Mumbai that is always flooded during monsoon months. With more and more permeable surfaces on sidewalks, or low-traffic roads, it will be of immense help to get the water into the ground, which ultimately flows back into the lakes. Unfortunately, it is considered an expensive project, but we should not overlook the damages these floods do to business and properties, which can be easily avoided with permeable pavements.
· Use sustainable forestry products: Simply speaking, in sustainable forestry, trees are allowed to grow freely for years, and then harvested for manufacturing products, thus the land can be used several times. It is far more efficient than deforestation of ‘real’ forests. It causes less soil erosion and helps retain water. Although there may be many ill effects of sustainable forestry, it is environmentally significant over a period of 10 or 20 years, and is an efficient way to retain water underground.
· Reuse and Reduce: Reuse products that might end up in a landfill, such as many plastic products or better still, reduce the products that end up in landfills, which are nasty to the environment as well as expensive on the pockets. Best example of a badly managed landfill is the dumping ground at Gorai, India (watch a video of this dumping site, courtesy YouTube). Such landfills cause tons of chemicals leaching into water sources, causing harm to the environment and human health. In this context, we often blame the municipality that they don’t clean up properly, but in reality we are more careless and ignorant than they are. It’s we who must reduce our wastes, and then blame others who don’t clean up.
· Plant trees: Trees are not only excellent for trapping CO2, but they are efficient at avoiding soil erosion as well as retaining water. If everyone plants just one tree a year, there will be a million more trees growing up every year! (And if the sapling dies, plant another the same year.)
· Cut daily water usage: Monitoring your daily usage to every liter of water used can be difficult, but if you avoid using bathtubs and instead aim to shower in about 10 minutes, you will save a lot of water over the long run. You can also stop using dishwashers, and instead wash and dry your own dishes. Just put on some music and do the job, it’s pretty relaxing! Watch GOOD and Fogelson-Lubliner’s video on how to cut daily usage of water (Worth watching!).
· Donate to the needy countries if you can, through organizations such as Water.org or simply focus on cutting down your own usage of water. I find it easy and I’m happy to do at least something for the environment. It’s surprisingly easy how you can conserve water by doing such simple things, and you don’t need to change your lifestyle either – just a little bit, maybe!
When you do all these things, there are many good things happening back in the environment. Things mentioned above can save liters of water every day, as well as reduce polluted water from reaching back in natural systems. This, over a period of time, will help water bodies sustain for a long time – which is good for us as well as every other living organism. Also visit Change.org’s Five Facts about Water You Might Not Know. This is how we can help in joining the ends of the linear pathway in which we exploited water for so many years.
There are many other “industrial” solutions to our water problem (besides waste water treatment), such as desalination, by which we remove salts from saline water and use the freshwater for consumption. In a recent report on TreeHugger.com, funding desalination projects is on a steep rise. Although desalination is an expensive process on a large scale, it is also not environmentally friendly, but it is always fair to explore alternate sources of water. We as citizens must focus on how to reduce our use, and if possible, help the drought stricken areas in whichever way we can. It can be achieved by sensitizing people on these issues, supporting local communities who may be affected by proposed dams and participate in cleaning of nearby aquatic ecosystems (visit Pearl Jam! for more options!).
Water has become a highly precious resource. There are some places where a barrel of water costs more than a barrel of oil (Lloyd Axworthy, Foreign Minister of Canada). We need to tackle this problem as one planet, and not as individual nations. It has been predicted that the next world war would be over water, but we can definitely avoid it if act now. We don’t need soldiers; we need water conservationists like you. J