Ten Ways To Protect Your Water
First published in Corporate Knights, September 2004
1. Love your water
We know about everything from the big bang to the nanotube, but water is still such a mystery. The next time you take a glass of water, stop and look at it. Two molecules of hydrogen, the building block of the universe, bonded with one molecule of oxygen. But just what is it? It covers 70% of our planet’s surface; life first evolved in its murky midst. Our own bodies are made of it, carrying that ancient memory. It may even have the ability to transmit healing. With the smallest shift in temperature, it turns into ice; turn the other way, and it’s steam. We are water; water is us.
See www.nyu.edu/pages/mathmol/textbook/slg.html and www.whatthebleep.com/crystals
2. Protect your local watershed
Water rises from the ocean, enjoys life as a cloud, then falls from the sky. Wherever it falls, is part of a watershed. By our watersheds, and how well we protect them, we live well, become sick, or die. Watershed stewardship is the practice of caring for our watersheds, protecting the water as it moves from sky to land; from land to creek; from creek to river; from river to sea. Our watersheds provide life for salmon, eagles, and bears; trout, pike, and walleye; forests, farms, and frogs. They feed the oceans, and replenish the whole circle of life. See www.watershedStewardship.ca
3. Keep it pure!
When the rain falls sweetly, it refreshes all our senses. But if we take it for granted, we risk trouble, danger, and death. Where carelessness wanders, chemicals and e-coli can slip in unannounced: toxic wastes from industry; nitrogen, phosphorus and pesticides from farms; cryptosporidium (a waterborne parasite) and manure from cattle; petro-chemicals from vehicle spills and oil refineries; leaking septic tanks from cottages and homes; household chemicals from careless disposal. We are water, water is us. When we pollute the water, we pollute ourselves.
4. Don’t P3 on your water utility
A P3 is a Public Private Partnership, ie effective privatization. The big global companies such as Suez, Vivendi, and Thames are fishing for contracts to take over local water utilities, and manage them for profit, their shareholders. But access to clean, fresh water is a fundamental human right, like the air we breathe, and not something to be sold (or cut off) for a profit. We should reform our utilities, and invest in them, but we should never sell them, or surrender the right to run them. See www.sierraclub.org/cac/water
We waste so much, but it’s so cheap, so why worry? As we learn to live more sustainably, we begin to use water more carefully. Caroma is an Australian company which sells a great water efficient toilet: two litres for a pee, six for a poo. Add efficient showers and faucets, and you’re on the way. See www.caromausa.com
A composting toilet goes one better: it uses no water at all. Just add peat and sawdust, and the result is great compost, and compost tee to feed the roses. There are waterless urinals, too, that can reduce our water-use further. See www.cityfarmer.org/comptoilet64.html
7. Gather ye raindrops
I have a hunch that the 21st century house will harvest its own rainfall, storing it in underground tanks. It will treat and recycle its sewage and greywater, and re-use the water in toilets and for irrigation. It will also gather its own energy from the sun; but that’s another story. In the garden, we’ll mulch everything and use drip irrigation, letting our lawns die back when there’s not enough rain.
8. Love your sewage
In the history of sewage treatment, we started off out in the bush, where nature (and wild boars) took care of things. When we tried the same in our medieval cities, alas, it led to cholera. Two thousand years ago, the Romans invented underground sewers, using water to flush the wastes into the nearest river. In the late 18th century, we developed the modern sewage treatment plant, which separates the solids and usually dumps them in the landfill, before letting the water, with all the gathered toxins, flow into a river, or the sea. In the late 20th century, John Todd invented solar aquatic sewage treatment (also known as the Living Machine), which keeps the solids mixed with the water, and uses algae, water hyacinths and snails to break them down, resulting in compost and clean water, which smell lovely and attract tourists. See www.livingmachines.com
9. Pass a clever by-law
To neutralize the effect of population growth on a region’s water supply, pass a by-law that says that you can only receive a building permit if you provide evidence that you have retrofitted enough existing houses so that they’ll save same amount of water that the new house will use.
10. Protect Canada’s Water
It might seem as if we’ve got lots, but as soon as we allow one tanker of bulk water to be exported, NAFTA’s rules say we’ve got to allow every tanker. If a government tries to prevent this, a corporation can sue for lost business. “Water belongs to the Earth, and all its species.” (Maude Barlow)
Guy Dauncey is the author of Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change and other titles. He lives in Victoria. His website is www.earthfuture.com.