It will take more than governors and Canadian officials to protect the Great Lakes freshwater system.
The drinking water for millions of Americans and Canadians, their property values, fisheries, marinas, tourism, shipping and hydropower are at risk. Wetlands and aquatic ecosystems are also in jeopardy because low water levels aggravate a suite of problems, including concentrated pollution and harmful algal blooms. The Great Lakes Compact holds the states and provinces responsible for protecting the lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater that feed the lakes. It bans the diversion of water, with some limited exceptions, and sets standards for water use and conservation within the basin.
But shouldn’t plummeting groundwater aquifers, documented low lake levels and water quality problems remind everyone who depends on this water to conserve it? Is your community taking the lead? What about you? Changing our water use is the only way to ensure we don’t create self-inflicted water challenges that other communities now find themselves facing. And the best group to lead this revolution is consumers, since their choices drive water
Did you know that the average American lifestyle accounts for nearly 2,000 gallons per day? Only five percent (100 gallons) runs through toilets, taps and garden hoses. Nearly 95 percent is hidden in the food we eat, the energy we use and the products and services we buy. Because much of this water is not needed for survival, minimizing both direct and indirect water use is critical. One sure way is to insist that producers don’t waste water and that they use pollution-free methods from the cradle to the grave. Another is to set the same expectations where you live, work or go to school.
Simple steps can decrease direct water use indoors and out. Take short showers, turn off the water while brushing your teeth, only run a full dishwasher, repair leaky faucets and install low-flow showerheads, toilets and other watersaving appliances, reduce or replace water-thirsty lawns with native plants and shrubs, add mulch and collect rainwater. But minimizing energy use and altering diets and buying habits can save much more water. Using less energy will cut down on the average U.S. household indirect use of 39,829 gallons of water per month for associated electricity production. It would also lessen the consumption of large quantities of water for unconventional gas extraction. Combining errands, carpooling or taking public transportation reduces energy and water use. A gallon of gasoline takes nearly 13 gallons of water to produce. And modifying your diet could subtract water needed to support the average American diet, which is approximately 1,000 gallons per person per day.
But water conservation doesn’t just mean using less water, it also means not polluting it. Walkable communities reduce pollution and energy use. Regular cleanups keep trash from entering lakes, rivers and streams. And planting trees and creating rain gardens anchor the soil and filter pollutants so they don’t wash into waterways. Which changes will you make to ensure the preservation and sustainable use of Earth’s fresh water?