By Staff Writer Megan E. Hunt.
When spending time with the French, it is hard to miss the fact that many take “navy showers,” or showers where the water is turned on and off only as needed. And no, it isn’t government mandated, just common practice.
Why do they do this?
Depending on the showerhead, showers can use up to 8 gallons of water per minute. Since 1992, the manufacture of all showerheads in the US have been limited to 2.5 gallons per minute. Even with that reduction in waterflow, a 5 minute shower will use 12.5 gallons of water.
Day after day, it adds up.
The importance of water conservation and the notion of water scarcity are not always front and center in the mind, especially when maps and globes are full of “blue area.” In reality, however, the increase in population and global development translates into more and more strain on fresh water sources each year.
Water can be scarce in any given region due to a lack of physical, unpolluted water, a lack of ability to access the water available, or a lack of financial means for water extraction and utilization. Because of all of these factors, there is a limited fresh water supply available for use each year. Of the water on planet Earth, 2.5% is freshwater; and of that percentage, less than 1% is available for use. Oftentimes, that percentage of available freshwater is contaminated and polluted, rendering it unsuitable for use.
While data on average shower times for every country is not exactly abundant, much information about water use and water conservation does exist. According to www.waterfootprint.org, the worldwide per-capita median of water use per year is 1320.5 meters cubed. That breaks down to an average of 3.62 meters cubed per day. The same study finds that the lowest water usage per person is Yemen, with 619 meters cubed per year (1.69 meters cubed per day); and the highest water usages per person is the USA, 2483 meters cubed per year (6.82 meters cubed per day).
This means on any given day, individuals in the the US use almost twice as much fresh water than the global average.
Why is this significant? Though most people in the US don’t encounter this problem face-to-face, fresh water is considered globally “scarce” because it is a finite resource. Our responsibility to steward this resource extends beyond water conservation at home, and into the demands we make as consumers. Many of the items in the market today require water in order to be produced. All of our food, anything that has been grown, and most raw materials require water in some function. However, some products require a much greater quantity of water than others. Beef, for example, requires much more water than vegetables to produce. Corn-fed beef requires much more water than grass-fed beef, since corn first has to be irrigated in order to be harvested. In contract, pastures are usually sustained on rainfall and occasionally a small amount of irrigation.
Nobody wants an economics lesson, but it’s true that when an item is purchased, a demand for that item is created. The more people who buy that item, the more demand there is – which causes a larger supply of that item to be produced (because manufacturers and retailers want to sell as many items as possible). On the other hand, if less people buy an item, less of that item is created, grown, or made. There is a special case in economics for finite supply. If demand is continually growing for a scarce resource – regardless of whether that resource is directly consumed, or used in the production of other things – the cost of that resource can raise astronomically over time.
Our water consumption today directly impacts how expensive water will become in the future.
That being said, it’s important to be informed consumers, making food and material purchases that aid agricultural water conservation. This is extremely important because 8% of the world’s water supply is used for domestic purposes. In contrast, 70% of the world’s fresh water is used for irrigation. The choices we make in our households are absolutely important; the choices we make as consumers hold even more weight because a greater percentage of our water supply is used for the production of food and goods.
- Increase awareness of how water is used in the production of items
- Substitute additional vegetables for some of the meat contained in daily diets
- Purchase more grass-fed beef and less corn-fed beef
- Reduce waste: buy amounts of food that can be eaten before the items go bad
- Look for alternatives to other water-intensive products such as cotton and coffee
Being aware of the state of our natural resources and our consumption is important. However our responsibility doesn’t stop there. Changing a few habits around the house can also make a difference.
- Install water-saving showerheads
- Try shutting off the shower water during the few minutes it takes to lather up
- Lower toilet water levels so they flush less water each time
- Run appliances like dishwashers and washing machines only when they are fully loaded
- Use less water-demanding plants for landscapes
- Do not let a leaky faucet go unattended
- Consider installing a rainwater and/or greywater harvesting system in your home