Pacific Institute Insights

Sink Spit and Shockers: Communications in the Water World

By Nancy Ross, Communications Director

August 6, 2013

Confession: It’s only a couple years ago that I started turning off the tap while I brushed my teeth. Why so late? Muscle memory – because I learned how to brush my teeth standing on a little step stool with the faucet running. And I grew up in a Hudson River town, when knee-deep snow and plentiful rainfall were the norm, and I never thought about needing to use water wisely.

©Kelli Brosnahan

Now I live in California where I can leave a bicycle outside all summer long with no threat of a shower and in an era when water scarcity is in the news, not just in the West, but in places like Atlanta and Tampa. Oh yes, and I do communications for a water and environmental justice think tank.

I’m not a water researcher; I’m a communications person – so getting up to speed in this arena a few years back served up some shockers for me that I now shock kith and kin with. But they warrant some serious thinking on the part of all water users, which is, of course every one of us.

-We don’t monitor and measure all our groundwater use in California.  

-The United States has not had a comprehensive water commission in place for 30 years.

-It takes (one might say “wastes”) three liters of water to produce one liter of bottled water, and the energy embedded in our bottled water use can be as high as the equivalent of filling a plastic bottle one quarter full with oil.

-Nationwide, an estimated 13% of the United States’ energy use is water-related.

I could list many more, but these are not simply random interesting facts from the water world. They are statements of how cavalier we are with our most precious resource. Simply hearing these facts raises immediate questions:

-How do we know if our groundwater use is sustainable if we don’t monitor and measure it?

-How do we ensure that our water resources are sustainably managed if there is not a comprehensive U.S. water policy?

-Why would we waste water and energy – and create pollution with water bottles if we don’t have to?

-What happens to our energy prices (and access!) if we don’t sustainably manage our water supply, when water and energy are so interconnected?

If you are already astute about the world’s water, the obvious enormity of these questions may seem like Water 101 to you. But that, in fact, is my observation. Among those of us who are interested, it is easy to forget that what are “obvious” concerns are only obvious because we got interested at some point! I still brushed with the faucet on through much of California’s recent drought. Now, I can’t imagine letting that water run down the drain.

In the water business, chipping away at old perceptions toward a new way to think about sustainable and responsible management of resources is slow and steady work. It’s time for me to shock another friend with the obvious…

Pacific Institute Insights is the staff blog of the Pacific Institute, one of the world’s leading nonprofit research groups on sustainable and equitable management of natural resources. For more about what we do, click here. The views and opinions expressed in these blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect an official policy or position of the Pacific Institute.

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