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How Much Water Does One Person Need?

Water is life.

There is no element of greater importance on this planet. Nature as we know it would not exist without water. You would not exist in your present form without water. The world as we know it would not exist without water. We are made of water; upwards of 60%. What an incredible thought! We are primarily liquid; your brain alone is 80% water. It seems fair to say that water therefore demands our respect.

For those that are familiar with backpacking, you will understand this conundrum of how much water do we actually need, in an extremely relatable way. (And for those that haven’t experienced backpacking, it’s incredible, you have got to try it!) When backpacking, you are forced to carry everything you need on your back. We therefore are obligated to give careful consideration to what we carry and how much of each thing we actually need. On longer multi-day treks, we must plan on how to find and purify natural water sources, such as streams and lakes. This adds another challenging dynamic to the situation that makes water all the more important to our experience. There is no feeling like the relief and appreciation of finding a small trickling stream where you had hoped it would be, based on a little blue squiggle on a map! Then once you have successfully found the water in the wilderness, you must go through the steps required to make it safe to drink.

Backpacking in Patagonia by Fend Despres

Conversely, for most people in the U.S., when you need water, you turn the handle of a faucet… that’s it. This disproportion leads to one logical conclusion, we have made it too easy. When something is so easy and apparently abundant, it leads to waste. It is a completely understandable line of thinking. For example; if you won $5 in the lottery, it would be unlikely for you to take ten percent of your winnings (5 cents) and buy something you don’t really need. This is because the amount is relatively low. However, if you won $5,000 in the lottery, the odds would be much higher that you would feel fine with using some of it on superfluous items ($500). What if you won 5 million? The higher the number, the higher the likelihood we would feel comfortable with the ‘waste’ of ten percent. In both the five-dollar and the five-million-dollar scenario the percentage is the same. What changes is the abundance. With increased abundance, waste becomes more tolerable.

If you haven’t ever taken the time to measure/calculate how much water you consume, you might be surprised at the results. A big part of your answer to this question depends on where you live. In the U.S. the average person uses 152 gallons per day for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and personal hygiene. In Africa the average per person usage is only 12 gallons. 152 vs. 12. How can this be? Obviously, this is a complex issue and there is no easy answer to that disparity but one thing for certain cannot be denied; a person can utilize a fraction of the average usage in the U.S. Water is undeniably important, so how do we work towards reducing our unnecessary consumption?

The following are five tips you can use to respect this all-important element of nature:

1) Fix the leaks.

One of the simplest things we can do is just stop the drips. It might not seem like much, but that drippy faucet, going drip, drip, drip, can add up to 2,700 gallons of water waste per year at a rate of once per second. Two drips per second, 5,400 gallons. The waste can add up fast, but fortunately can be solved relatively easily with some basic tools.

2) Optimize lawn watering.

In excess of 50% of water used on landscapes is wasted! Yes, you read that correctly, half of all water used is lost to run-off and evaporation. Ensure you water only during the cooler parts of the day, such as morning or evening. If you use an automated watering system, perform an audit to ensure you aren’t using more than you need. (Also be sure the system is equipped with a function to skip the watering cycle if it just rained or rain is predicted!) Do a little research, you may be surprised how little water it actually takes to keep your lawn alive, when done thoughtfully.

3) Cease lawn watering.

Even better than reducing or optimizing your lawn watering, stop doing it! Many forward-thinking people and communities are recognizing the importance of wise water allocation and are eliminating traditional consumptive landscapes. Xeric landscaping continues to be a valuable alternative, but even better is conversion to a native landscape. Using the plants that naturally grow in your region means that the plants can typically thrive on just the annual precipitation that comes from the sky. It is estimated that by 2025, agricultural water demand across the planet will increase by 60%. What’s more important to you, a green lawn or food to eat?

4) Start a compost.

Not typically something we think of in terms of water conservation, but it is estimated that on average, one gallon of water per person per day can be used running a sink garbage disposal. Composting appropriate food waste has the added benefit of preventing that food from ending up in a landfill to rot and release methane gas into the atmosphere. Plus, it’s full of wonderful nutrients for your newly converted native landscape!

5) Think twice about car washing.

Some of the least consumptive commercial car wash options still use up to 35 gallons per vehicle. At 100 vehicles per day, that single car wash is using 3,500 gallons per day or another way to look at it, 1.26 million gallons per year! Washing your vehicle at home can be even more consumptive. At 10 gallons per minute, your garden hose is putting out 100 gallons for just a ten-minute car wash. So, think twice about whether or not that car wash is really necessary before you contribute to these statistics.

(The bonus of implementing these and other water conservation measures is that it can save you money!)

Freshwater accounts for less than 3% of all the water on Earth. Within that percentage most of the freshwater is locked in glaciers and polar ice caps, polluted or deep underground. Of all the water on the planet only 1/150th of one percent is surface water such as lakes and rivers! Water is truly a finite resource, and yes while it is a renewable resource, the world population continues to rise and our limited amount of freshwater available is going to be stretched thinner with each passing year. This increase in population and decrease in availability could lead to conflict and famine. It is time that we acknowledged water should not be wasted, no matter how abundant it may seem to be.

Water is life.




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