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Why should I think about water conservation?

Water scarcity seems like a silly topic to talk about on a planet that has 71% of its surface covered in water. You might even be wondering why you should ever worry about saving water. After all, there are 326 million trillion gallons of water on Earth, and that amount always remains constant. Even when you take into consideration that humans can only rely on 1% of that for accessible freshwater, that is still a massive amount of water. Besides, every time you turn on the faucet, water comes rushing out. But what if that wasn’t the case? That is precisely what almost happened in the South African city of Cape Town.

In January 2018, Cape Town, a city the size of Los Angeles, announced that they were just a mere 90 days away from running out of water for its nearly 4 million residents. The impending water shutoff, dubbed “Day Zero,” was primarily the result of wasteful consumption, intensive agriculture, and severe drought in the region. However, through aggressive efforts by the citizens and the government, Cape Town was able to dramatically reduce their water usage and eventually push back Day Zero until the rainy season. While Cape Town was able to delay their water shutoff indefinitely, a growing number of major cities around the world are expected to face their own “Day Zero” in the coming years. According to researchers, there could be a worldwide water shortage by 2040 if we do not change our water usage habits.

There are a few ways that you can do to start to conserve water today just by changing your habits. First, start thinking about how you use water around your home. Simple things like turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth, not rinsing dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, and limiting the length of your showers can have surprising impacts on your water use and can save hundreds of gallons of water a month. Also, consider opportunities to repurpose or overlap your water use. For instance, if you need to run the sink to warm up the water, try filling up a container to water your plants or garden while you wait. Repairing and replacing appliances can also have a tremendous impact on your savings.  The EPA estimates that washing machines and toilets account for nearly half of all indoor residential water use. By switching to newer, more efficient appliances the next time you upgrade, you can reduce your water use in these areas by over 60%.

If you want to step it up a notch, starting to think about your consumer habits can make a big difference. While personal and residential use only accounts for about 8% of all water consumption, the rest of our water use comes from agricultural and industrial practices. Many of the products that you buy can use large amounts of water that we don’t necessarily see in the final product. This phenomenon is referred to as virtual or embedded water. For example, from start to finish, a cotton T-shirt can take 650 gallons of water to produce when you consider all of the ingredients and processes that went into make the shirt. Beef, in particular, is incredibly high in embedded water use. It takes over 435 gallons of water to get one quarter-pound hamburger patty. Much of that virtual water in beef comes from the alfalfa grown to feed cattle. To help rein in the use of embedded water, try participating in Meatless Mondays or supporting second-hand stores. By curbing our consumer habits, we can help reduce demand for some of these water-intensive products. Reduced demand will, in turn, reduce the water consumption in those industries—allowing for more available water in times of need and helping improve our resilience to changing climate conditions.
Chris Philpott
Animal Immersion Programs Supervisor

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl