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Environmentally aware individuals are perpetually bombarded by the worst sort of false choice, one that's been drilled into us even by environmental activist organizations.

You know the sort of false choice - the one where, as my friend Adam points out, a big corporation will sponsor a wing of the local museum or aquarium and include a helpful display saying "it's up to us [individual museum-goers] to make sure there's enough water/fish/trees/air for everyone". When quite often it's the corporate sponsor who's more responsible for doing said damage than all the museum-goers combined.

That is, we're not running out of water - water is being stolen. Remember where water is used: 91% of worldwide water is used by agriculture or industry. 8% is used by households.

Every product that you buy has likely used tens if not hundreds of gallons of water in its production process. In the United States, every 1 out 5 gallons of gas (roughly) comes from Canadian tar sands syncrude, which requires one of the most environmentally destructive and water intensive processes imaginable. Conventional agriculture typically uses underground aquifers or long-distance irrigation without any concern about sustainability.

I agree that it's good to use a little less water during daily showers (or take showers less frequently). But maybe it's time to rethink whether simple things like staying clean are the luxuries we should be feeling pressured to cut out rather than cutting the world's water use where it should be cut - at and by the biggest users of it. And here we can have some small impact, as we choose what products we buy and what food we eat.

Let's consider a major example of this.

Bottled water is bad - this much has been known for a while. Just making 12 ounces of it takes gallons of water in production and shipping, not to mention all the electricity and fossil fuels consumed in making the plastic and shipping the bottle across the world. Not to mention that the water itself isn't cleaner than the tap in most cases.

Some bottled water isn't just bad, it's ridiculous.  Fiji bottled water is particularly bad - in with the country's dictatorship. And who ever thought it was a good idea to ship water half way around the world? It's disturbing that Fiji water is now one of the most popular imported waters, but stepping back from it, bottled water makes no sense no matter where it's from or how bad the company's practices are.

The best solution (if you want cold / room temperature water) is to drink tap water from a cup or receptacle made of metal, ceramic, or glass (lead free, of course). It's best to avoid plastic bottles, even ones like Nalgenes, because they've been found to leach Bisphenol A. I often use a glass mason jar - mason jars have leak proof lids and no mystery ingredients, and are pretty much infinitely reusable for a variety of purposes.

There are very few places in the United States where tap water is bad enough that it can't be consumed directly; in those instances, a simple water filter is preferable to the absurdity that is bottled water.

Don't worry though, LEED-certified "green" bottled water factories are on the way.


Despite all of this evidence of the general badness of bottled water, it's among the most-common culturally-invisible ways that we waste things. I'm always reminded of this when I see talks given by environmentalists, and they're drinking from bottled water they were handed as they got up to the podium and talk about taking shorter showers - if they don't recognize it, who will?

There are numerous other areas in which we need to conserve water.  Agriculture is a great example.  Dryland agriculture (i.e. most of Western and Southwestern agriculture) requires irrigation, and typically much of the water evaporates before it can be taken in by plants.  Brad Lancaster's books on this subject are full of great information.  Also check out olla irrigation.  (I should write more on this subtopic another time, since there's a lot more that can be said about it.)

Until next time...

Originally posted to barath on Sat Jul 16, 2011 at 09:14 AM PDT.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots, Progressive Country, Progressive Hippie, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  another problem with bottled water is (15+ / 0-)

    corporations steal the water from community, after getting tax incentives to build their plants and then export water out of watershed, breaking return flow process while residents then struggle with well water levels.

    Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Mohandas K. Gandhi

    by Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse on Sat Jul 16, 2011 at 09:28:59 AM PDT

    •  I Use One Of The Huge Britta Water Filters (7+ / 0-)

      that holds like two gallons. I just got the EPA water report from my city and I am blessed with some of the cleanest water in the country. I still use the container that the Britta filter goes in, but no longer the filter, cause well I have clean water where I live :).

      When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

      by webranding on Sat Jul 16, 2011 at 09:43:41 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I've heard good things about the (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        webranding, JanL, cotterperson

        "big Berkey" water filters.  I think in many places it'd be possible to dig a well, put a big Berkey filter on the end of it, and have a good reliable source of fresh drinking water.

        Of course, as long as they don't decide to do natural gas fracking in the area.

        contraposition.org - thoughts on energy, the environment, and society.

        by barath on Sat Jul 16, 2011 at 10:02:59 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Before I Went To The Britta (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          barath, JanL, cotterperson

          I had an "old school" coal filter on my kitchen sink. I loved it. Much more cost effective than the Britta, which when you drink as much water/tea/coffee as I do, can get pretty expensive.

          I never did the math on paper, but I am sure if you are worried about clean water, you'll pay more for the initial investment to put a filter on your tap, but in the long run it is a more cost effective option.

          When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

          by webranding on Sat Jul 16, 2011 at 10:13:21 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  clean is relative, use the Britta for chlorine (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JanL, cotterperson

        I bet your water utility still uses chlorine to KEEP the water clean, doesn't it?  we have great water here in Eugene OR, pristine mountain watershed stuff, but the utility still puts chloramines in it, so we use a filter-pitcher for all drinking water.  and a shower-head filter.  and the water I feed to my sourdough starter.  we're gonna' put in a whole-house filter the next placed, but it wasn't practical here.

        they used to use chlorine, which would off-gas.  the d***'d chloramines never go away!  have to add chemicals to the landscape pond to keep from killing our giambujia (skeeter-larva-eater little fishies).  you can tell when it's summer, or there's new construction going on... they ramp up the chlorine content!

        "real" work : a job where you wash your hands BEFORE you use the bathroom...

        by chimene on Sat Jul 16, 2011 at 06:31:10 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  some may still want to filter even w/ good qual. (0+ / 0-)

        Some of the water quality report is made from random customer sampling (including lead), but some is from sampling at the treatment plant. Depending on the age of your community, you may still want to filter after the tap, since the plumbing between treatment and your house may have an effect.

  •  I Know This Isn't The Main Point (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama, barath, JanL, NoMoreLies, wu ming

    of your Diary, but your mention of bottle water made me think of a comedy skit I saw years ago. The time is like 1969. Some hippies are hiking in the woods by a stream. One of them fills and bottle and says:

    You know we ought to sell bottled water.

    Everybody laughs at him, who the heck would pay $3.50 for bottled water?

    The video flash-forwards to the present, where the guy with the idea of selling bottled water is a billionaire.

    For the life of me, I mean for the life of me I can't figure out how folks pay for bottled water. Not only isn't it so good for the environment, but the fuc*ing waste of money.

    When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

    by webranding on Sat Jul 16, 2011 at 09:36:31 AM PDT

  •  We did a Lenten discipline (that I hoped would (8+ / 0-)

    help people kick the bottled water habit) where we had labels to put on an empty water bottle that said, "Since the wells were dug we have not buried any children." The quote was from a Swazi man in a village where a good well had recently been added. For each bottle of water that someone skipped, they dropped that money into the collecting bottle and we sent the proceeds to dig more wells.

    Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Wee Mama on Sat Jul 16, 2011 at 09:44:54 AM PDT

    •  I Can't Find The TED Video (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      barath, Wee Mama, JanL, marina, cotterperson

      but this guy set-up a non-profit after he went to Africa and saw women and children were walking miles each day for water.

      He had what I still think is like the coolest idea around. He built playgrounds right outside of the villages. When the kids played, on say the merry-go-round, it turned some gears that pumped water from a well.

      So the children not only had their first playground, they had fresh water at their doorstep. Two birds .... one stone!

      When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

      by webranding on Sat Jul 16, 2011 at 09:49:31 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  You don't provide a reference for your statement (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cotterperson

    that

    91% of worldwide water is used by agriculture or industry

    Is that a UN value?  I'm guessing you probably mean "agriculture and industry."

    I ask because in the U.S. things are different.  According to the
    US Geological Survey, water use has the following distribution:

    Thermoelectric power: 49%

    Irrigation: 31%

    Public supply 11%

    Industry: 4%

    Aquaculture: 2%

    Mining: 1%

    Domestic supply: 1%

    Livestock: less than 1%

    •  I meant and... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JanL, cotterperson

      You're right, I meant agriculture and industry combined use 91%.  Here's the source, which compiled its data from UNESCO:

      http://www.wbcsd.org/...

      I think the data you've pasted is bit misleading, since the water used in power generation isn't "used" in the sense that water used in agriculture or industry is used.

      contraposition.org - thoughts on energy, the environment, and society.

      by barath on Sat Jul 16, 2011 at 10:57:12 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Ummm (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        marina, cotterperson

        No.

        The water in agriculture or industry isn't "used" any differently.  The vast majority remains in the hydrologic cycle.

        The only use that takes a substantial amount of water out of the hydrologic cycle is some of the water used in hydrofracturing -- the portion that stays in the formation that is not hydraulically connected to aquifers that discharge to surface water. Those formation contain gas, petroleum, and connate water (water left over from when the formation originally was deposited).

        I'm a hydrologist/hydrogeologist, by the way.

        •  I guess that's not what I mean (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          cotterperson

          Isn't it the case that the water use listed as power generation doesn't generally contaminate the water significantly (or at all)?  (Isn't a lot of that used for cooling, heat exchange, etc.?  Or if not, would you be able to break down that value further?)

          contraposition.org - thoughts on energy, the environment, and society.

          by barath on Sat Jul 16, 2011 at 11:05:26 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  It's contaminated with heat (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            barath, NoMoreLies, cotterperson

            Which is a significant problem with many receiving water bodies.  Fish don't like warm water.

            A lot of water used in industry is non-contact cooling water too.  Not fundamentally different than electric power generation.

            Even if agriculture or industry caused water contamination, that water eventually will reach the ocean (in most locations), mix, and some fraction of it will be evaporated and fall as precipitation over land.

            •  Great point. (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              JanL, cotterperson

              Do you know if there is good data on major aquifer replenishment rates.  That is, how much faster are we drawing down aquifers like the Ogallala than it would replenish due to rainfall?

              contraposition.org - thoughts on energy, the environment, and society.

              by barath on Sat Jul 16, 2011 at 02:20:59 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  eventually we'll all be dead (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Jantman

              If agriculture or industry cause contamination, we can't use it to drink, cook, or bathe until it's reached the ocean, evaporated, and fallen as rain again-- but oops! At that point the same industrial and agricultural polluters will still be upstream of us and will pollute it AGAIN before we can use it. So yes, it stays in the hydrological cycle, but yes, it is removed from the total available pool of fresh water available in that place for drinking, cooking, and bathing.

              OP's point is totally valid: discussions of water conservation must take into account all users, not just residential users, who indeed could begin tomorrow to all conserve fanatically, and still not be able to prevent fresh, potable water from being turned into a scarce and expensive commodity by the growth of industrial and agricultural water use. And yes, this argument holds true for many other natural resources that are becoming scarce.

              On the other hand, it is those same 'residential users' who drive the industrial and agricultural uses with their consumption choices. If we want to conserve resources, perhaps we'd be foolish to rely on the businesses that are carrying out industry and industrial agriculture to ever behave in a responsible way about natural resources/externalities, without being forced to. Haven't we learned that lesson over and over?

              The two avenues we have for forcing businesses to behave responsibly are refusing to buy products produced irresponsibly, and voting for congresspeople who will create strong regulations to prevent them from behaving irresponsibly.

              Until we can solve this whole plutocracy problem, the odds of strong regulation are not that great, so for now I'm worrying more about my individual choices for consumption, and of course, about coming up with a way to kill the one dollar, one vote meme.

        •  fracking for natgas should be outlawed, internat'n (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          JanL, cotterperson

          internationally, that is!

          we can live without natural gas energy

          we cannot live without water!

          the same goes for water-filthy Canadian tar sands petroleum!!

          "real" work : a job where you wash your hands BEFORE you use the bathroom...

          by chimene on Sat Jul 16, 2011 at 06:35:38 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Really good and could use a few more (5+ / 0-)

    readers.

    Republished to DK GreenRoots.

    Science is hell bent on consensus. Dr. Michael Crichton said “Let’s be clear: The work of science has nothing to do with consensus... which is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right,”

    by Regina in a Sears Kit House on Sat Jul 16, 2011 at 11:00:24 AM PDT

  •  To gain comfort, convenience or quick satisfaction (0+ / 0-)

    today, vast numbers of humans are charging a terrible cost to the future.  You can't stop the problem until you educate every single one and get them to accept birth control, conservation, austerity, and self-control.
    So let me know when that happens.

    Living in the spaces between the boxes other people are thinking inside of...

    by fourthcornerman on Sun Jul 17, 2011 at 03:06:46 AM PDT

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