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Why Conserve Water?

Conserve it! Photo by Attila Horvath.

If you enjoy spending time on the water, then water conservation should definitely be a priority. Here’s why it’s important:

Water flow. Paddling and fishing begin with one necessity: enough water. “It’s important to have adequate flows to participate in recreational activities,” says Liz Garland, the associate director of the Healthy Waters Campaign for the Pennsylvania field office of American Rivers. Liz – who has been a whitewater canoeist for 30 years – says water flow is important to protect fisheries and for anyone who relies on decent water levels for outdoor pursuits.

Trout, for example, thrive in water that can maintain a constant temperature, and Liz says this is related to the flow of the water. Since trout is a coldwater fish that is sensitive to temperature change, low flows are problematic because shallow water gets warmer faster.

Dams control and change water flow, and Liz says that agencies like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers coordinate dams along rivers for flood control and other reasons. Water diversions redirect water out of basins for agricultural use and leave lakes and rivers with lower levels. These fluctuating flows affect both recreational possibilities and aquatic life.

Steering clear of bacteria. Higher flowing rivers can handle a greater capacity of water-borne bacteria than lower-flowing ones before becoming hazardous. “If you have too much bacteria and people are recreating in the water,” Liz says, “then they are subjected to excessive wells of bacteria, and that causes all sorts of illnesses, mostly intestinal-related.”

Conservation allows for healthier water flows, which are important when water policies and pollutant standards – including those for bacteria – enter the picture.

Freshwater is scarce. Not only do humans need fresh water, but we need freshwater – that is, water found in lakes, rivers and streams that has low salt concentrations – says Tami Kruer, the executive director and education coordinator for Clark County’s Soil and Water Conservation District office in Indiana. But only about 3 percent of the earth’s water supply is freshwater. Of that 3 percent, we can only use about 1 percent because most freshwater is locked in ice.

Population growth is one of the top reasons for water scarcity. With about 6.7 billion people on the planet and such a small percentage of the earth’s water supply available for human consumption, everyone’s share gets smaller as the population continues to get bigger. We are competing with other people for a share of the water supply, while that hawk, beaver or deer that you see outside also counts on freshwater habitats to survive.

Using water uses energy. Not only does using water add to the water bill, but it takes energy to keep water flowing and treated throughout cities. The water flowing down the drain is going to be treated whether it was used or not, so it’s best to make the most of whatever water is coming out of the faucet. Eighty percent of the cost of water comes from the energy used for its treatment and delivery.

Some reports cite an aversion to water conservation as another reason for scarcity, perhaps because, as Tami says, if water is coming out of the faucet then people don’t see a problem. But those of us who enjoy waterways need to understand that water conservation is necessary to ensure that they stay healthy and flowing.

“You can advocate for sound planning and management for the rivers you are using,” Liz says. “I think recreational people have a wonderful ability to appreciate the resource, and many of them also have a great capacity to make sure the resource stays healthy.”

What you can do at home: Install low-flow showerheads. Wash clothes in cold water. Install an ultra low-flow toilet. Turn off the faucet when soaping your hands or brushing your teeth. Rely on rain to water your lawn. Catch rainwater from your gutters and use it on your plants.

What you can do from your computer: Pay attention to local and state policy regarding water withdrawals and water use by signing up for alerts on the website of your state’s Department of Environmental Protection/ Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Check out city council agendas. Then advocate.