Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Water Follies


I thought a lot about water Thanksgiving week. I spent it in Scottsdale, AZ, which is, basically, in the desert. I do my best to be conscious of how much water I use at home (Collingswood, NJ), though I’m far from perfect and could do better. And although I inherently understand the increased challenges cities in arid climates face with respect to getting water, actually “living” in the desert for a week made me to think about water much differently. Out there I felt a heightened awareness to how much I was using each time I turned on the tap or shower or flushed the toilet. Even more so, I felt a heightened sensitivity to the lack of water. So I thought a lot about water.

We are used to turning on the tap and having clean, fresh water at our disposal. Humans –as well as every other creature on Earth, need water to survive. It quenches, cleanses, purifies, nourishes, and cultivates, to name a few. And we actually have a finite amount on Earth –precipitation aside. We can’t make water easily either -from scratch that is (okay, actually we can, but it isn’t easy
http://science.howstuffworks.com/manufacture-water.htm), although there are some interesting experiments for turning water vapor back into liquid water in large quantities (http://www.waterunlimited.com.au/index.html).

Not to knock Phoenix and Scottsdale, but I spent some time last week reading their 2005 Water Resources Plan (
http://phoenix.gov/WATER/wtrpln05.html). The report states that Phoenix has enough to meet current demands for the next 50 years and beyond –although how long beyond equates to isn’t stipulated. They are approaching this very responsibly too, but 50 years is hardly a generation. What about a plan that looks at minimum, say, 500 years into the future? How would this change the approach to and thinking about the plan, as well as future growth for the city?

Thinking about all this also got me musing about resources we use to produce energy. Our current priorities are focused on having enough oil, coal and natural gas. However, we can actually live without these (and although it would require adaptation and change, it wouldn’t mean a return to the Dark Ages). Rarely though, do we hear enough about water and dwindling supplies in the news. We cannot live without water.

The giving of water by one person to another in need is often seen as one of the most charitable acts of humanity. We are taking vast quantities of water from Earth, and even changing the very ecology and hydrology of Earth’s waterways and groundwater sources to meet current demand without replacing in kind. Most of our sources are dwindling. Many are polluted. Do we see the provision of water by Earth as a charitable act? Taking this a step further, are there moral questions around water we as a collective global society need to be asking and answering? Such as, how much growth for a city is too much and what does it need to be limited to or, how does the taking of water for City X deprive flora and fauna both near and far and what steps are we going to take now to ensure that there is enough water for all living things, not just humans, or, what is the long term, i.e.: 500 year, environmental impact of any new commercial or residential building which conducts business as usual with respect to water usage, i.e.: merely meeting minimum standards?

The next version of the LEED rating system, LEED 2009, calls for a mandatory 20 percent water use reduction. That’s a step in the right direction, but we can do better. In reality, we must do better to even consider having water 500 years from now, and beyond. For buildings, this means moving towards a closed loop system, striving to capture and recycle every molecule of water which can possibly be so, for both new and existing buildings. We also need to continue to think outside the box, challenging current accepted standards, codes and practices as well as repairing and restoring our waterways and groundwater supplies. Finally, we need to see water as a gift from Earth for us and for all living things, one to be used with the utmost judiciousness, and the giving of it by Earth understood to be one of the most benevolent acts bestowed upon humankind.

1 comment:

mouthoflowers said...

Sara this post makes me think aobut the bottled water industry as well..as a corrolary to what you are saying...I am reading about it and it is shocking they are draining aqifers in maine and other places...ugh...as such conserving once again also means being a defensive consumer...