The Importance of Water Conservation and Early Education
By Susan Gottlieb
You don’t need a degree in hydrology to conserve water. You just need a passion for the environment and a deep understanding of how critical the water shortage is. In fact, the World Bank reports that “80 countries now have water shortages that threaten health and economies while 40 percent of the world — more than 2 billion people — have no access to clean water or sanitation.” What can we do?
My first water conservation memories are from the 1940’s with my parents admonishing my two sisters and me not to waste water. My family was living in a remote area of Canada where water was in abundance but where most people didn’t have running water in their homes. There were times when my mother was forced to haul water from a well (which was the distance of a city block) to our home where she would bath her 3 little girls, then wash our clothes in the bath water and then use the same water to wash the floors.
It was this early lifestyle that led me into the world of conservation and restoration. In the 1980’s, my husband Dan and I spent many weekends driving the back roads of California. During those trips we could see the degradation of lakes such as Owens Lake in the Sierras and we learned that in 1941, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power began diverting Mono Lake’s (www.monolake.org) freshwater tributary streams to meet the growing demands of Los Angeles. The lake had lost 40 vertical feet of its original depth and the entire Mono Lake ecosystem was collapsing.
I was determined, in my own small way, to help mitigate the damage that was being done by Southern Californians in our endless efforts to bring the tropics to the drylands – large, perfectly manicured lawns surrounded by lush tropical flower beds and trees. Most of which require not only gallons of water frequently and regularly, but fertilizers and insecticides, to stay in good condition in this inhospitable (to them) environment. Along with cutting the amount of water we use, water conservation, in my opinion, includes keeping pollutants out of our waterways.
In 1989, I removed the lawn we had in different parts of our yard and replaced it with rock gardens filled with succulents and cacti. By 1990, I decided that the rest of our one acre property in the hills of West Los Angeles should be planted with drought-tolerant plants so as to lessen our water consumption. In so doing I learned about the wonders of native plants – plants that have evolved in the area to live within the constraints of their environment. They require less water than non-natives, have immunity to diseases, can survive the onslaught of pests to which non-natives would succumb without the help of pesticides – and are totally uninterested in fertilizers which is critical because of their poisonous potential. We now have multitudes of native wildlife in our yard and have been designated a Backyard Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation, a distinction earned because we provide food, water, cover and nesting sites for wildlife. What many don’t know is that native plants can be absolutely gorgeous, especially while in bloom. To learn more about California Native Plants go to www.theodorepayne.org or Google your states native plant society.
With water conservation still on my mind, I joined the board of directors of the Friends of Ballona Wetlands (www.ballonafriends.org), an organization dedicated to conservation and restoration of the wetlands and educating the public in the importance of doing so. When one becomes aware of the very sad condition of most of our wetland areas it is hard not to want to help. Many of the areas not already lost to development, have become dumping areas, have had their water sources diverted and are choked with trash. It is heartbreaking to see the birds that call these areas home – herons, egrets and other marsh birds – picking through plastic, Styrofoam, syringes and other “disposables” in search of food. In addition, the sludge and scum floating on the water’s surface and the signs along the Ballona Creek advising against eating fish caught in Ballona Creek, indicate the level of pollution caused by runoff from our yards and streets.
Being a water conserver is a lifestyle choice. The good news is that having a drought-tolerant garden, using a drip system, or a smart sprinkler controller rather than an old inaccurate sprinkler system and repairing malfunctioning irrigation systems immediately will all aid your entrance into the world of water conservation while still allowing for a beautiful garden. Using organic mulch around your plants to reduce evaporation is another way to save many gallons of water. Never use the hose to clean the driveway when a broom will do the job. Keeping your eyes open is another part of being a water conservationist. One example is to look for areas of water in the gutter, which usually means a neighbor is watering the street rather than the yard. Reporting leaks wherever you see them is also important. Which leads to repairing leaks. Water bubbling up through the street can mean a broken water pipe below the pavement. 14% of American water use is actually water that is lost due to leaky faucets, toilets, irrigation systems and faulty fittings. Investing in a washer with a Water Factor at or lower than 9.5 translates to 35 -50% less water usage and only wash full loads of laundry. Taking short showers under a low-flow shower head and turning off the water while brushing your teeth are other ways to conserve. According to studies, by turning off your faucet while brushing your teeth you will save 3 gallons of water a day.
A 1999 study showed that toilets use almost 27% of all water used by each person in America. Using one of the newer l.6 gallons per flush toilets will substantially cut that water usage.
We need to lead by example – to teach the importance of water conservation to the next generation so that they take personal responsibility.
Susan Gottlieb, owner of G2 gallery which donates 100% of the proceeds from sales of their environmental photography to environmental charities.