A water-saving shower head uses 2-4 gallons of water per minute. If you take a 10-minute shower, you use 20-40 gallons of water. Think about the other water you use. Toilet flushing, hand washing, fruit washing, tooth brushing, running water to get it cold or get it hot, dish washing, clothes washing, glasses of water you don’t finish and dump out, baths, car washing, lawn watering…
The average America uses 70 gallons of water a day. At that rate, my household of six would average about 420 gallons a day. It is probably higher. It’s a little depressing to think about that, and then read about Cape Town South Africa, where within months, the city of 400,000 people will run out of water unless mother nature steps in to help. Today, residents in South Africa’s second largest city are limited to about 13 gallons of water per day, less than 20% of what the average American uses.
Reservoirs to run dry in Cape Town
So, what will happen when the reservoirs run dry in Cape Town? The immediate answer is that people will need to stand in line to get water, the government will need to provide water, and a huge humanitarian effort will likely occur to help people obtain water. But the less obvious answer is that the elderly, the homebound, the disabled, the people with intellectual disorders and people with mental illness might die. The strongest will stand in line in the blazing sun and windy cold to get their “fair share” of water, the richest will get what they think they need and more through financial means, and the bureaucratically connected will figure out how to get the water they want. But those on the fringes of society will suffer, will want, and may disappear.
The other less obvious answer is an answer to the question what happens if mother nature never steps in to help? What if this starts happening in other parts of the world sooner rather than later? What if Cape Town is the first of many that humanitarian efforts can’t keep up with, or humanitarian organizations use triage methods to see where they are needed most? If that happens, the people of Cape Town may be forgotten as crises blow up around the world. Desperation for water will lead to crime, will lead to sickness, and in both cases will lead to death.
Stop and think about your water usage
Tonight, when you are washing vegetables for salad, preparing a bath for your kids, or brushing your teeth with the water running, at least think of how lucky we are here in Minnesota compared to Cape Town South Africa. I urge you to do a little more though. Think about ways you can save water, a gallon here or a gallon there. A faster shower, a bowl of water to clean fruits instead of running water, repurposing old drinking water into plant or lawn water, less flushing. We are so lucky to have an abundance of fresh water, but even in our own country, water pressure is mounting. And as usual, too many politicians want immediate fixes and selfish fixes, rather than developing sustainable plans and solutions. I saw a shirt recently that said “Great Lakes? No, Awesome Lakes!” They are awesome, both in terms of awe inspiring and in terms of excellence. Let’s make sure we protect the Awesome Lakes, and the big lakes and the little lakes, the ponds, rivers, creeks, swamps and bogs. Wendell Berry once wrote about environmentalism in his book The Unforeseen Wilderness:
” We can learn about it from exceptional people of our own culture, and from other cultures less destructive than ours. I am speaking of the life of a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children; who has undertaken to cherish it and do it no damage, not because he is duty-bound, but because he loves the world and loves his children…” (1971).
I don’t know about you, but I would rather have my grandchildren and great grandchildren thank me for doing little things to save the world, rather than ask me if I knew we were destroying the world, and wasting the earth’s resources, why didn’t I do something about it.
Caucus for the earth this Tuesday
When you caucus on Tuesday, support strong climate change resolutions, support environmental issues, and support long-term plans to improve our world and society. And then, turn off that extra light, open the curtains in the morning even if you are walking around in your bath robe, if it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down, take shorter showers, save the water you wash vegetables with and use it for something else. There are so many ways we can each make a difference.