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Friday, June 17, 2011

No Impact Man Columbia Week Two----Water, Water, Nowhere?

       While the world struggles to overcome its addiction to oil, the next great resource shortage may make the oil shortage look mild by comparison.  As we go through the 21st century the world’s need for drinkable water may create shortages that impact us in ways that oil never could.  We all take for granted that when we turn on the faucet clean drinkable water is instantly provided to us.  Is it possible that a wealthy country like the US could have its population join the one billion people in the world who right now don’t have access to clean water? Will our use of products that are made with toxic chemicals lead us in this direction?

       I would like to examine one example of how this could happen in the US.  Most of us have some awareness of the use of “fracking” that is going in Pennsylvania that raises questions of our future ability to take drinkable water for granted.  Fracking is seen as the best way to increase our supply of natural gas, which will reduce our reliance on foreign oil and is seen as a cleaner substitute for oil and coal to power our need for energy. As quoted in the blog Words for a Better World and widely reported in the media, “In 2005, the Bush/Cheney Energy Bill exempted natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act. This lobbying effort was led by none other than Halliburton and aided by the former CEO of Halliburton, then-Vice President Dick Cheney. The bill exempts companies from disclosing the chemicals used during fracking, as the chemicals are considered “trade secrets.” Given this legal exemption, the EPA was taken out of the picture, even though EPA environmental engineers reported in 2004 that the chemicals being used in fracking were not safe and were in fact toxic at the point of injection.”

      So how do most of us contribute to this problem? A few ways I would like to highlight.  First by the use of chemical fertilizers that we use on our yards that flow off our yards and into the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay.  Is having a green lawn really worth killing the Bay? Is the wasted water that we put on our dormant brown lawns every summer a good use of this precious resource?

How about the other common uses of water that we hardly think about each day.  Every toilet flush uses about 3 gallons of water.  Every shower uses 2.5 gallons a minute. The average bath uses 50 gallons. Dishwashers use an average of 20 gallons a load. The average load of laundry uses 10 gallons.  I doubt we would use anywhere near these amounts if we had to haul every gallon like many people in underdeveloped countries. We can still use these conveniences and save water by adding flow restrictors to our shower heads and having water saving toilets installed.  You can even make you existing toilet use less water with each flush by putting a brick in your tank. Or how about not always flushing the toilet as often? Or not washing all your clothes after wearing once?

I found these suggested ways to reduce your water:
In the Bathroom
1. Make sure your toilet is an ultra-low flush model, which uses only one and a half gallons per flush.
2. If you're taking a shower, don't waste cold water while waiting for hot water to reach the shower head. Catch that water in a container to use on your outside plants or to flush your toilet. Saves 200 to 300 gallons a month.
3. Check toilet for leaks. Put dye tablets or food coloring into the tank. If color appears in the bowl without flushing, there's a leak that should be repaired. Saves 400 gallons a month.
4. Turn off the water while brushing your teeth. Saves three gallons each day.
5. Turn off the water while shaving. Fill the bottom of the sink with a few inches of water to rinse your razor. Saves three gallons each day.
In the Kitchen
1. If you wash dishes by hand—and that's the best way—don't leave the water running for rinsing. If you have two sinks, fill one with rinse water. If you only have one sink, use a spray device or short blasts instead of letting the water run. Saves 200 to 500 gallons a month.
2. When washing dishes by hand, use the least amount of detergent possible. This minimizes rinse water needed. Saves 50 to 150 gallons a month.
3. Keep a bottle of drinking water in the refrigerator. This beats the wasteful habit of running tap water to cool it for drinking. Saves 200 to 300 gallons a month.
4. Don't defrost frozen foods with running water. Either plan ahead by placing frozen items in the refrigerator overnight or defrost them in the microwave. Saves 50 to 150 gallons a month.
5. Don't let the faucet run while you clean vegetables. Rinse them in a filled sink or pan. Saves 150 to 250 gallons a month.
6. Use the garbage disposal less and the garbage more (even better—compost!). Saves 50 to 150 gallons a month.
1. Put a layer of mulch around trees and plants. Chunks of bark, peat moss or gravel slows down evaporation. Saves 750 to 1,500 gallons a month.
2. If you have a pool, use a pool cover to cut down on evaporation. It will also keep your pool cleaner and reduce the need to add chemicals. Saves 1,000 gallons a month.
3. Water during the cool parts of the day. Early morning is better than dusk since it helps prevent the growth of fungus. Saves 300 gallons.
4. Don't water the lawn on windy days. There's too much evaporation. Can waste up to 300 gallons in one watering.
5. Cut down watering on cool and overcast days and don't water in the rain. Adjust or deactivate automatic sprinklers. Can save up to 300 gallons each time.
6. Set lawn mower blades one notch higher. Longer grass means less evaporation. Saves 500 to 1,500 gallons each month.
7. Have an evaporative air conditioner? Direct the water drain line to a flower bed, tree base, or lawn.
8. Drive your car onto a lawn to wash it. Rinse water can help water the grass. Or don’t wash your car at all!
9. Tell your children not to play with the garden hose. Saves 10 gallons a minute.
10. If you allow your children to play in the sprinklers, make sure it's only when you're watering the yard—-if it's not too cool at that time of day.
11. Replace your lawn and high-water-using trees and plants with less thirsty ones. But do this only in wet years. Even drought resistant plantings take extra water to get them going. That'll save 750 to 1,500 gallons a month.
12. When taking your car to a car wash—a good idea for saving water—be sure it's one of the many that recycles its wash water.
13. Dispose of hazardous materials properly! One quart of oil can contaminate 250,000 gallons of water, effectively eliminating that much water from our water supply. Contact your city or county for proper waste disposal options. And don't flush prescription medications!

      OK so what did I do in this No Impact Man-Columbia week to conserve water? I did as I suggested and put bricks in the toilets.  And tried to limit the times the toilet was flushed to just a couple times a day.  Not getting into the times when I did flush but you can probably guess. I timed my showers to be no more than 2 minutes (I already have low flow shower heads).  I have to admit that I wore two shirts for 2 days each this week.  Not sure this would work as well on our humid summer days.

The project that I did that was the most fun was to construct a rain barrel system for one of my gutters.  For about $35 in materials at Home Depot I built it after following the instructions on a You Tube video.  Not being a great handyman (as my family will quickly tell you) I had some mistakes to overcome in building the rain barrel.  The biggest one was not closing the valve on the faucet I put on the barrel.  I found this out going out after a heavy shower and anxiously looking to see how much of the barrel filled up and noticing the ground around the barrel had a big puddle.  Oh well, live and learn.  Now I anxious await the next heavy rain.

Next week 3 will be reduced electrical use.  This should be one of the harder weeks.

Howard County is offering free energy audits to over 1400 county residents.  Sounds like a good idea for my next week efforts.

P.S. 2
You may have noticed that I have added a new blog to the ones I follow.  It is a blog by Beth Kantor on how networked organizations are using social media to power their growth.  A blog that all organizations should read.  Her book on the networked organization is the best book I have read on the subject.

1 comment:

Rhoda Toback said...

Shared with my HOA through our Google Groups List Serve.
It would appear that HOA's are an invaluable source for connecting directly with residents. Is there a central system for communicating with HOAs or is left to the villages and standard means vs the county?