Is anything in this world more life-sustaining? Is there a resource more precious than clean water? And yet so many of us have such little respect for its inherent value. The reality that we in the “first” world can have clean, potable water flow into our lives by simply turning a knob or pulling a lever is unreal! Unreal, as it is taken for granted by so many of us, heedless of our good fortune. We turn on the shower, or the kitchen sink. We want hot water. (So demanding!) It’s cold. Riiiiight. So: we let the water run, away, down the drain. One, two gallons, in most homes without a recirculating water system, until it gets hot. Down the drain, wasted, gallons of clean and precious water. According to the World Health Organization, 844 million people worldwide lack a basic drinking-water service. And then some of us have merely to turn a knob or pull a lever, without so much as a thought to the gift that flows so freely.
The conservation of water is then a life-sustaining art. It should be common core, standard curriculum in every grade school. Again: we need water—hot! So we turn on the faucet. Could we use a bucket or pitcher to collect the clean water until it gets hot? This is water that can be used to water plants, flush the toilet, clean, and so on. But this is such a hassle. Waste is our creature comfort and our way of life.
Imagine if each of us just considered it: this vital resource, so readily available to so many in any quantity, as finite. If we considered the gift when washing dishes, we might consider scrubbing with the faucet off, or over a bucket to catch the runoff. And this is just homespun; let’s use our means to explore more advanced greywater recycling, aquaponics, and other low-impact methods of maximizing this resource. We must acknowledge Flint (et al), and the fact that even here in the United States there is inequity when it comes to water. Let’s remember this, and let’s consider it: the gift, our privilege, and our ingenuity.
Natural disasters flood our newsfeeds. Their frequency is alarming, and to some, an exhortation to (re)consider our impact. And what’s the number one thing people need after a catastrophe? You guessed it.
It’s been said that water is the new oil. Our thirst for the latter has led to calamity, as we plunder peoples and the Earth for a fix. When it comes to water, some tout desalination as the answer—but it’s a stopgap, rife with consequence. Let’s start small, with awareness of—and gratitude for—this privilege. The sooner we can tune into the precious flow, the sooner we can progress to a more thoughtful, thankful, and abundant existence.
Tom McKee is a carpenter and the curator of 2nd Growth, a sustainable and restorative living project, advocating responsible stewardship of the world’s resources. Visit the website at 2ndgrowth.org