THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Watching The World's Water Quality And Quantity

Water is something that many of us take for granted. It is a necessity, and it is readily available to us. We turn on the faucet and there it is, clean, safe, drinkable. We shower in it, water our gardens with it, and wash our clothes with it. But for many people around the world, clean water is a luxury they can only dream about.

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 884 million people are without adequate drinking water, and 2.5 billion people are without adequate water for sanitation. Waterborne diseases are the leading cause of death for children under age five. Every 15 seconds, a child dies because of a lack of clean water and sanitation. Half of the world's hospital beds are occupied by people suffering from waterborne diseases. The World Bank says that 88 percent of all diseases are caused by unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene.

How did we get in this situation? The world's population tripled in the 20th century, and the use of renewable water resources has grown six-fold. The population is expected to increase another 40-50% in the next fifty years, and this will have an inevitable impact on the environment. Water resources are stressed. There is less water available for agriculture as well, which means that our food supply is threatened, which contributes to the hunger crisis. And the water crisis and the climate crisis are closely related, one affects the other.

Fortunately, there are some amazing organizations doing something about this. Water.org, co-founded by Matt Damon and Gary White, focuses on water and sanitation. One way they are helping is providing loans to individuals and families so that they can use the money to connect their homes to a water source. When people don't have to spend their time walking long distances for clean water, they have more time to work and earn money for their families. And the children are more likely to go to school, which means they'll be able to have a better future. The microfinancing loans are paid back very quickly. Water.org has another program in place where a $25 donation will give one person clean water for life. For a $100 donation you can help an entire family. The money goes towards community organizing, hygiene education, geological surveys, project costs, and maintenance.

Water.org also has several amazing downloadable lesson plans for schools and teachers to coincide with World Water Day, an annual event March 22. The site also lists several ways that kids can get involved in helping to find solutions to the water problem.

Guy Laliberte, the co-founder of Cirque du Soleil, has created a wonderful video to explain the water crisis, and what we can do to help. It's definitely worth a visit to his website onedrop.org and it's free.

I live in Southern California and we're currently experiencing a drought. Of course this is nothing compared to what is going on in Africa and Asia, but knowing what we do about the importance of water to our own survival, it is difficult to fathom how we could still be building and maintaining so many wasteful private swimming pools, golf courses, and elaborate decorative fountains. Excess is out, people! Downsize, conserve, simplify. We need to stop thinking like consumers and start thinking like citizens. We need to watch out for each other, and future generations. There are lots of things we can do, and most of them we know about already, we just have to be mindful and take action. When my washing machine conked out after years of wear, I purchased a front-loading washer that uses 14 gallons of water per load, compared with my older top-loading washer that used 40 gallons of water per load. That adds up to a big difference in water savings over the life of this one appliance. When we moved into our home four years ago we replaced all the original 1970's era toilets with new ones that use a lot less water. If you still have an old toilet and can't replace it just yet, you can install devices that reduce the amount of water that is used. Here are some other things we all can do to help conserve water and protect the quality of the water we do have:

  • Rather than flushing unused or expired medications down the drain and into the public water system, return them to the pharmacy to be disposed of properly.
  • Use both sides of a sheet of paper. Save a tree and you also save water.
  • Use environmentally-friendly hygiene and cleaning products. Think about the chemicals that are going down the drain and into the water system.
  • Carry your own reusable water container rather than buying bottled water.
  • Eat at least one vegetarian meal a week. For the most impact, consider going vegetarian. If everyone in the U.S. are vegetarian just one day, we would save 100 billion gallons of water.
  • Take shorter showers, and install low-flow showerheads. Every minute you shorten your shower by saves about 5 gallons of water.
  • Turn off the water while shaving, brushing teeth, or washing your face.
  • Make sure that your home is leak-free. Read your water meter before and after a two-hour period when no water is being used. It the meter does not read exactly the same, there is a leak somewhere.
  • Operate the dishwasher and washing machine only when they are fully loaded.
  • Compost instead of using the kitchen sink disposal when you can.
  • Insulate water pipes. You'll get hot water faster and also avoid wasting water while it heats up.
  • Plant smart. Xeriscape landscaping is a great way to design, install and maintain your plants and irrigation system so that you save time, money and water
  • Water your lawn only during the early morning hours when the temperatures and wind speed are the lowest to prevent water loss from evaporation.
  • Sweep, don't hose down walkways and driveways.
  • Raise the lawn mower blad to at least three inches. A lawn cut higher encourages grass roots to grow deeper, shades the root system and holds soil moisture more efficiently.
  • Mulch to retain moisture and also control weeds that compete with plants for water.
  • To wash your car, use a commercial car wash that recycles water.
  • Spread the word about the world water situation, and set an example for your friends and family.