Godzilla Water Users

Wind PowerRemember the old Japanese monster flicks? Godzilla wreaked havoc on the city, stomping cars like they were ants. That monster had one serious footprint! We are the new Godzilla. Our footprints have been stomping the planet and it seems we’ve only recently looked back to realize the destruction. Can progress that leaves a trail of environmental ruin really be called progress?

Can we reduce our collective footprint enough to tread lighter on the earth? The long term health of our civilization depends on it. Bulldozing a path through a new frontier waiting to be “developed” is over – it has created some serious environmental debt. Sort of like a subprime, adjustable rate mortgage for Mother Earth. Many are realizing that what we saw as pristine while looking ahead has become wasteland in the rearview mirror.

There’s been a lot of talk about carbon footprints lately. Another kind of footprint is water, a crucial issue, especially for those of us in the west.

The way we use water determines our footprint and most of us are still dinosaurs – some of us even monsters. The average per capita water use in Southern Nevada is very high. Most is used for recreating lush landscapes unnatural to this desert. The average home in Southern Nevada uses close to 150,000 gallons of water every year, and while this is a heck of a lot of water, there are many who use much, much more. Examples abound of those who use 600,000, 3 million, even 17 million gallons a year. Keep in mind, these are residences. Yes, you probably have a Godzilla in a neighborhood near you! Their footprints are crushing us.

Clearly there’s evidence of an addiction here. It’s a habit we must break if we care about our communities. What are the possibilities for reducing our water footprint?

First of all, we must acknowledge the addiction. Let us embrace, rather than deny, the fact that we live in the Mojave Desert, the driest place in the nation. It’s beautiful, but it’s not Pennsylvania or Seattle. Yes, I know we’ve made progress, but if we’re honest about it, there’s a lot of room for improvement.

Next, take a holistic approach to solving the water issue, using existing resources in ways that reduce, not expand, our footprint. This seems a lot saner than the Godzilla/bulldozer approach (literally) of bringing in more water from distant lands, be it the Snake Valley or British Columbia (believe me, it has been proposed). Most massive water projects have made a few people rich but historically caused more problems than they solved, creating even deeper environmental debt for those in the future.

A holistic approach should encompass several components that, when combined in a comprehensive strategy, result in a much smaller footprint plus financial savings.

Here are some ideas:

  1. Landscape with indigenous plants (remember, we’re embracing the Mojave). This greatly reduces the water we need for irrigation.
  2. The use of grey water for irrigation should be strongly encouraged. This reduces the energy required to process and re-pump water from Lake Mead, which amounts to around 7.5 kWh for every 1,000 gallons of water. The Springs Preserve is an excellent example of grey water (and even black water) use with beautiful, constructed wetlands that filter and clean waste water for reuse on site. They don’t even use a sewer connection!
  3. To supplement grey water, harvest occasional rainfall. A 2,000 square foot roof could yield around 5,000 gallons yearly, even in our dry climate. Rainwater cisterns have been in use for thousands of years.
  4. Use more water-saving fixtures and appliances.
  5. Composting toilets (another exhibit at the Springs Preserve) eliminate water waste, reduce lake pollution, and provide valuable, safe compost. Toilets are responsible for a large percentage of our indoor water use. Composting is nature’s way of recycling valuable nutrients.
  6. Use a combination of efficiency and solar energy to reduce grid energy use which requires large amounts of water to produce.
  7. Stop uncontrolled growth.

These few examples of responsible water use can help us move toward a sustainable future and save us money. We’re not a culture of two-year olds who just have to have their way, right? We can change. We’re responsible adults, temporary stewards of this earth who realize the decisions we make today will impact people for many generations to come. Let’s live on the planet as if we intend to stay.

Green Living column for Thursday, March 26, 2009, published in the Las Vegas Review Journal: “Water use reaches monstrous proportions”

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