A wake-up call on water use
A long-running resource issue finally trickles down to more consumers.
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Agriculture uses about 70 percent of the global water footprint, while industry clocks in at around 20 percent.
But individual awareness and behavior is an important starting point in reducing one’s impact on the environment, says Alex Mayer, director of the Center for Water and Society at Michigan Technological University in Houghton.
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Even small steps can make a difference. “Maybe even a calculator meter magnet on your fridge, so that every time you open the door or run the faucet, you’re faced with your own behavior,” he says with a laugh.
Nobody has to tell California officials about growing water crises. The state, now in its third year of drought, declared a water emergency in February. Two days after Easter, southern California water agencies announced mandatory cuts for the summer and September rate hikes for the 19 million residents of Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Ventura counties.
“We’re always looking for ways to encourage people to change their ways with water,” says Bob Hayward, general manager of Lincoln Avenue Water Co. in Altadena, a water district of 16,000 users in the heart of Los Angeles. His customers were asked to voluntarily cut their water use by 10 percent last year, which most were able to do.
But now the district is asking customers to cut back an additional 20 percent. “They’re not taking that very well,” Mr. Hayward says with a sigh. Officials are hoping to inspire residents to switch from water-hungry gardens and lawns to plants that are more suited for arid locales.
What many people may not realize, notes Mr. Hayward, is that nearly 75 percent of residential water use in California goes to outdoor purposes, mostly landscaping.
Across southern California, water districts maintain demonstration gardens that illustrate how to have plants and conserve water at the same time. At one on the edge of the grounds of Santa Monica College, Andrew Villegas, a local high school senior, says he knows about the carbon footprint but hasn’t heard about the water footprint. He likes the alternative garden, which is full of drought-tolerant grasses and water-wise options to shrubs.
Adjacent to the “good” garden, a traditional one grows the thirsty roses and pansies favored by many homeowners in the region. Brochures show the differences in waste, water, and maintenance between the two gardens.
Sitting nearby with her 2-year-old daughter Lucy, Annie Bloom says she likes the water footprint idea and tries hard to keep hers down. When she bathes Lucy, she rarely fills the tub anymore, and sometimes, she adds with a laugh, she’ll even give her a bath in the kitchen sink. “That takes much less water.”
Even as the water-footprint concept is catching on, some think it’s just a start. “What’s good for water conservation may not be good for energy efficiency, for example,” says Cameron Wilson, a research analyst of environmental and building technologies with Frost & Sullivan, a consulting firm in Toronto.
Ultimately, he would like to see the discussion move beyond individual components in the ecosphere. If it has to be a catchy line, he says, “let’s try an ‘ecological footprint.’ ”