Isn’t it time we got smart about water – America?
Unless you’re in the drought stricken Southwest, you may be wondering, water, why do we need to get smarter about water? It’s a renewable natural resource after all and there is plenty of it, particularly for those located in the central states, near the Great Lakes.
Well, here’s the funny thing about renewable natural resources. They are only renewable if we do two things; take care of the source, and don’t overuse. Unfortunately for us, with water, we have done neither.
State of the Nation
In the last twenty years we have seen trash that was dumped in the deep ocean wash up on our beaches, marine mammals coming down with strange illnesses, giardia in Lake Superior, pollutants have been found in deep aquifers, lakes and rivers that were once open to swimming are now closed due to pollution, and most of us either drink bottled water or have filtration on our home water faucets. Twenty years ago, except for Perrier, who’d have thought of drinking bottled water?
A lot has changed in twenty years and the next twenty years have the potential to produce even larger and more impactful changes. We have two things working against us: population growth is increasing the demand for water, and global climate change is altering the distribution of rain, which affects our water reservoirs.
Progress Worth Noting
But all is not lost America! A lot of smart people are working hard on solutions that increase efficiencies, detect contaminants and increase our resilience.
- Grand Prairie, Texas: Sensors throughout the sewer system alert utility operators to issues before they become problems, mitigating risk and lowering operational costs. By detecting sewer blockages, the smart sewer system has helped Grand Prairie optimize cleaning cycles and cut sewer overflows from an average of 65 a year to 8 or fewer. (I&I Magazine, Summer 2018).
- San Diego County CA: A suite of technology applications used by the San Diego Water Authority has helped to prioritize repairs, avoiding unnecessary work and maximizing the service life of the region’s large-diameter pipeline, saving San Diego over $200 million. (San Diego County Water Authority News Release, 24 January 2017). According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, approximately 75% of water cost is for infrastructure repair and not water quality. (Engineering 360, Clean Water, Big Price Tag, 7 June 2016)
- Burbank CA: By combining the use of smart water meters with customer water use reports, utilities have managed to engage consumers in the water management. What was found in an initial one-year controlled trial is that not only was water consumption reduced, but overall energy consumption was reduced with a benefit cost ratio of 4.7 for the study period. (E2e Working Paper 033, December 2017)
More solutions are being developed, spurring the growth of many new, small and growing businesses. The more we know about our water use, the better we will be at managing it and ensuring the right quality for the intended use – not only in our homes and businesses but in our wetlands as well.
But what can we, as individuals, do right now to better manage this finite water resource? There are the simple things our parents told us, like turn the faucet off while brushing our teeth or don’t take such long showers. But more than that, we can make an investment of time in understanding our current water reality by tapping the free education offered by organizations, such as the U.S. Water Alliance (and its OneWater Roadmap), the Waterkeeper Alliance, Alliance for Water Efficiency and EPA WaterSense.
Knowledge is Power
They say you can’t manage what you can’t measure. We are fortunate to have benchmarks to chart our progress, albeit with delayed data. The 2015 Water Use Data for the United States was just released by the USGS (USGS report circ1441). It shows that in 2015, the United States as a whole used less water than in 1970 (data produced every 5 years) even with a larger population.
We are making progress, but there is far more work to be done.
Technology and smart practices exist to manage integrated water systems and clean up water sheds, but not everyone knows where to find these resources. This is where you come in. We need you to spread the word on the success stories that are well documented via the U.S. Water Alliance Water Equity Clearinghouse site, the Atlas – Resilient Cities Site, WaterSmart Innovations and the Water Research Foundation.
It’s a small and very worthwhile investment in this land that we all love so much.
GUEST CONTRIBUTOR: Linda King started her career as a chemical oceanographer where she did research that had implications for studying climate change long before climate change was an issue in the news. Though she strayed from the field, she has never lost her love of the water and environment. She has a passion for all things water from swimming and kayaking to scuba diving. She not only enjoys writing about water and other environmental issues, she very much enjoys researching how these systems work. She is looking forward to applying her skills as an analytical scientist to the field of water conservation. When she is not thinking about water conservation or playing in water, you might find her backpacking in our National Parks.