Friday, June 24, 2011

It's easy to forget the value of clean water until you don't have any

Water is life. Without water we die, within a couple days. Today I was at home working on the book I'm writing, and the landscaper (paid for by the landlord) comes knocking on my door that the water sprinkler system in the back yard was spewing water. One thing led to another and currently the water is entirely cut off at the house and it's unclear when the handyman will come over to fix things. In the meantime I have various gizmos around the house like toilet, kitchen sink, and washing machine that are no longer functioning. It's gifting me an exercise in recognizing the value of clean water.

WAKE UP! One of the things modern society infrastructure has misled us into believing is an infinite supply of clean water. We just go to the faucet, turn the handle, and out comes some water. But what happens when the faucet no longer works? How will we survive?

The faucet will stop working for any of several reasons. A widespread disaster for example will knock the water system out of whack until it can be repaired. Those instances will hopefully be rare, and short lived, but I wonder how many people in Japan are still surviving on bottled water?

Another potential cause is population growth outstripping the water supply system. Or financial collapse rendering governments unable to continue maintaining the water supply systems. Or changing rainfall patterns due to global warming induced climate change rendering water sources unable to provide more water.

It's quite an experience - over 50 years of life during which I could always go to the faucet to get more water, and now the faucet doesn't work.

If this were a real emergency (I live in an earthquake zone, the San Andreas Fault less than 6 miles away) the firehouse across the street would be distributing emergency supplies, and I suppose I might be volunteering to help.

It's the other systemic failures (population growth, climate change, etc) which are the more troublesome. Here in California we don't get rain between April and November, and we rely on snowfall in the mountains being captured in reservoirs then pumped hundreds of mails across the state to reach the cities. Obviously the system could fail for any number of reasons, such as no more fuel to run the pumps. It's clear we can survive short term water supply disruptions but what about longer term ones? Where is California going to get water for the 10's of millions of people living here when climate change enforces a permanent rainfall reduction?

Anyway .. for those worried about me, don't. I know how to go out to the house water connection and turn it on. Turning it on means wasting water in the back yard, so I'll turn the water on in the morning when it's time to flush the toilet and hopefully take a shower. In the meantime I went to the drug store and bought 2 gallons of water.

Here's a conundrum for you about water supply. Flush toilets consume 2-3 gallons of water per flush. How much does that water cost?

With the municipal water you flush with, the cost is too small to worry about. Hence on municipal water we don't have any monetary incentive to be careful with water, and there is a lot of water wastage going on.

The 2 gallons of bottled water I just bought cost $2.18. If it cost you $3.27 per flush for the water, what would you do?

That's kind of the outrageousness of bottled water. Municipal water is extremely good quality, has actual safety standards that are actually enforced, unlike the complete lack of bottled water safety standards and complete lack of enforcement. Yet bottled water costs a zillion times more than municipal water. What's going on? For a wonderful movie on this question see: Tapped, a look at the dangers of bottled water

Also for a blog post about water supplies in post nuclear accident Japan: Panic over water in Japan based on official lies or on official confusion?