Will the major water main break in the D.C. area this week incentivize Congress to deal with our aging infrastructure? That's one heck of a way to commemorate World Water Day (Friday, March 22nd).
When it hits home, people take notice. The water and sewage system in the D.C. area is between 77 and 100 years old, in some places even older, and this water main break was one small hint of what could be down the road in the not-so-distant future, if repairs are not done in time. At least the two million people in Montgomery County who are now on restricted water use as a result are learning good water-conservation tactics. They should make them a habit.
The American Society of Civil Engineers gave America's water infrastructure a "D" grade on March 19. Did anybody notice? Watch the PBS documentary Waterpressures for a glimpse of life without water -- today.
Less than one percent of the planet's water is available for us humans, so though the oceans may seem infinite, our water supply is not. In America, we take water for granted. We turn on the tap and out it flows seemingly in abundance. The average American uses 100 gallons per day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which is multiple times any other country. So Americans are the biggest water guzzlers, well as the biggest gas guzzlers, on the planet.
And remember that water is not replaceable and necessary to sustain human life. We can find new sources of energy but not of water. Our bodies are up to 60 percent water, our brains are 70 percent water, and our blood is 83 percent water, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Ann Feldman, executive producer of Waterpressures, told me in our interview on Green Connections Radio water use has grown twice as fast as the population.
Can You Drink the Water?
I tested water in Arlington, Va., and in D.C. and it was "safe," according to the least expensive test I could find in the local hardware store (ProLab, $12.99). But this test does not test for lead, and D.C. water is treated with chloramine to kill unhealthy bacteria, which is monitored by the EPA, but may not be safe for pregnant women, or folks with a health condition. Check with your doctor.
Lead was banned from household plumbing in 1987; therefore, if your house was built before then, and/or you're concerned about corroded pipes releasing lead into your tap water, an inspection and bottled water may be in order.
You can go to the EPA's WaterSense web page for water safety information, or to your city's water department. Chances are there's a "Frequently Asked Questions" page or FAQs, which is a good place to look for answers.
What Can YOU Do?
If you want to know your water footprint, go to www.waterfootprints.org where you can enter information about your lifestyle and discover how much water you use. It's sobering.
The bathroom is the biggest water guzzler, not surprisingly, as you can see in the chart posted here.
Tell your Congressperson to pass the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act introduced by Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, and to keep the Clean Water Act in force.
Here are seven additional steps you can take:
1. Take short showers -- five minutes even. A clever group of students times their showers.
2. Use a dishwasher in lieu of hand washing and always run it full. If you don't have a dishwasher, fill the sink with water and wash a bunch at once.
3. Always wash a full load of laundry. Washing machines in apartment complexes do not have settings for "small, medium or large" so they will use the same amount of water each time.
4. Buy used jeans, or wear yours longer. It takes 3,000 gallons of water to make a pair of jeans.
5. Turn off the water when you brush your teeth or shave. It will save gallons.
6. Drink tea instead of coffee, because tea uses only 9 gallons vs. coffee (37 gallons).
7. Use water from steaming veggies or rinsing pasta to water your plants, or to flush the toilet.
So whether or not Congress gets their act together -- please! -- at least you can do your part to avert a water crisis. I lived in Nevada and Northern California where water shortage was an issue. It's not fun.
By the way, the sequester has stopped the monitoring of the availability of water by the U.S. government, so we may not know as we dwindle the supply of this most precious of resources.
What will YOU do to commemorate World Water Day?
Tell us below in comments or on Facebook.