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AUGUST 11TH 2011 


It’s been an interesting summer for weather. We’ve had more heat than we can remember, but only a fraction of our normal rainfall. This can be said for a lot of North America and Europe as well.

Perhaps it’s because of this absence of rain that we’ve begun to think more about water. Or perhaps it’s because water is so much at the centre of our summer selves. Not only is it our playground, we need it to grow food, and to clean and cool everything from our stuff to our bodies. It even carries away the waste we create, personal and otherwise.

Yet we seldom think about it, unless we’re forced to. We turn on the tap, and there it is. But somewhere up that water line lies one of the most complicated and important topics we face, globally and locally.

What do Walkerton, Los Angeles, and the Sudan have in common? People have died because of water. In fact, at any given time, half the world’s hospital beds are occupied by people dealing with water-related illnesses, says

In many cases, it’s a lack of water that’s the problem. But as long as you don’t live in a desert (umm, sorry Las Vegas), you probably won’t have to deal with that , right? Not so fast. It’s estimated that as many as 36 states are at least at mid-term risk of meaningful water shortages. In California’s case, it will run out of water within 20 years. Then what?

It’s a fact that in North America we are using water faster than nature can replenish it. It doesn’t help that the US and Canada are the planet’s two most profligate users of water. It’s estimated that the average American needs 1,800 gallons of water per day to support their lifestyle.

The good news is that we have vast quantities of it. In fact, 20% of the world’s surface fresh water sits in the Great Lakes. So for now, availability isn’t a problem most of us deal with, at least on more than a temporary basis. No, the issue we all share has to do with the quality of water. Fully 1 in 7 of us worldwide live without access to clean water.

At this point, you’re thinking “Yeah, those poor people in Africa or the slums of Asia, somebody ought to do something about that. “ But before you start congratulating yourself for being born in a place that has clean water, here’s a scary thought.

According to UNESCO, 40% of the water bodies in the US are not fit as sources for untreated distribution due to nutrient, metal, or agricultural pollution. And, here’s one more. Scientists are finding measurable amounts of fun stuff like cocaine, Viagra, perchlorate (rocket fuel!), morphine and other chemicals from pharmaceuticals and personal care products in our water.

While water treatment systems filter out many of them, they aren’t perfect. And even when designed to extract all the known chemicals, what about the new, unknown, or untested ones? Or what about human error, which at its worst can kill unsuspecting people who trust the water coming out of their taps. (Walkerton, ON, where eight people died from E. coli contamination).

But guess what? There is a simple solution to warding off catastrophe. Use less. This extends to being smart and buying less. Did you know that 70% of the water you use is in the stuff you buy. Check out this link for details.

When it comes to personal water usage, 60% of the action comes from your bathroom.

So buy a low flow or 2-stage toilet, and replace your shower-head. Try turning off the tap when you brush your teeth, and aim for shorter showers — no one really needs an 8 minute rinse (the average American time).

And don’t get us started on how wasteful and dangerous it is for people to use garden hoses to wash dirt (and chemical residue) off their driveways and into the sewer. Every one of these “use less” tips will not only use less, it will save money. The toilet and showerhead will pay for themselves in less than a year. Everything else starts saving you money today.

Another great piece of advice is: Don’t dump. For starters, don’t use your toilet as a trash can for anything, especially old and unused medicine. Most drug stores will help you with that. And try to see the big picture: Every time you dispose of something it will end up in the groundwater from which your drinking water is drawn.

Oh, and on that subject, do you know here your drinking water is drawn from? Would you like to know? Might make you think a little differently about it when it comes out of your tap. There’s so much more we could say, share, or draw your attention to. But let us finish with our list of other sources in case you want to learn more (and trust us, this is one we all should want to learn more about.

DO: Calculate your water footprint at:

READ: The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water, by Charles Fishman

WATCH: FLOW: For Love of Water ASK: What habits could I change to ensure water sustainability?

  • Aubrey

    Great article…here’s another take on how our water is being fouled:

    Hamilton Airport polluting local water


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