The days are getting longer, the temperature is rising and the flip-flops are hitting the pavement again! Summer 2013 is on its way, and while there are many positives that come along with the change in season – vacations, beach days, an excuse to eat ice cream for dinner, etc. – one negative is the threat of drought. Last year’s summer broke drought records and has already had a negative cumulative impact on this year, which experts are predicting could be even worse.
While we may not have control over Mother Nature, there are some things we can do to be more conscious of wise water use during this critical time. So before you pack up for vacation or throw the burgers on the grill, take a look at these simple ideas to keep water saving in mind this summer:
- When it comes to sprinklers, don’t just set it and forget it. Only water your lawn when it really needs it. If you walk on the grass and it springs back, then you don’t need to water it, but if you leave footprints, it’s time to water.
- When you do water the lawn, make sure to do so in the morning. As much as 30 percent of water can be lost due to mid-day evaporation.
- Set your lawn mower one notch higher to make your grass more drought-tolerant.
- Use a broom instead of a hose to clean your sidewalk, driveway or patio.
- Wash your car with a bucket and sponge, which uses only a few gallons to do the job. A hose left running can waste as much as six gallons per minute.
Drought season is an obvious time to take wise water use into account, but don’t stop there. There are other things you can do all year long to not only reduce your water consumption, but also reduce your monthly bill. It’s a win-win situation for the planet and your wallet!
Next week, I’ll join over 10,000 other water professionals at the annual American Water Works Association (AWWA) conference in Denver. Over 900 experts in the field will be presenting information on water resources, technology, education, research, utility management, and more. The field of water technology and management is constantly changing – and the challenges to water quality and water supply are mounting – so it’s important to be constantly learning.
Anyone that knows me, knows I think it’s important that you learn something new every day. I would tell my kids if you don’t learn something new, you don’t qualify for dessert! It’s important to develop a constant thirst for knowledge. The AWWA annual conference is one way to quench this thirst – and there are great dessert tables at the vendor receptions!
The Partnership for Safe Water is a voluntary effort between the US EPA, drinking water organizations, and more than 200 water utilities throughout the United States to go beyond current regulations to provide a superior level of water quality. The program was instituted in 1997 (following the 1993 outbreak of cryptosporidiosis in Milwaukee) to provide enhanced treatment barriers. In recent years the program has expanded to also include voluntary programs to optimize the operation of distribution systems.
I’m proud that 200 utilities – serving about 85 million people, have stepped up joined the voluntary program. I’m also proud that about 70 American Water systems have achieved the Phase III Director’s Award. This year a number of them will receive recognition for maintaining this high level of treatment, consistently for 10 and even 15 years! It’s a well deserved salute to the men and women who consistently ensure safe, superior quality drinking water at about a penny a gallon; 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. For that, we should all celebrate with dessert tonight!
Dr. Water is thinking about hosting a live Twitter Chat. Would this be something you’d like to attend? What are some of the topic ideas you would be interested in seeing? Please give us your comments!
Happy pre-Memorial Day weekend! With the unofficial start of summer upon us, have you planned out your vacation yet? Some of the best summer spots are the beautiful national parks we have all across the country. With more than 400 parks in every state of the union, there are many great options.
The National Park Service (NPS) has been taking care of our country’s parks since 1916. Last year, it rolled out a new initiative – its “Green Parks Plan” – to more sustainably manage the landmarks by reducing energy and water consumption, adopting greener transportation and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. This past Earth Day, NPS announced that it diverted 28 percent of municipal solid waste since 2007, due in part to a growing number of parks stopping the sale of bottled water.
Americans throw away 38 billion water bottles a year – more than $1 billion worth of plastic – which could take up to 1,000 years to biodegrade in our landfills. According to the Container Recycling Institute, 85 percent of plastic water bottles end up in the trash, even though they are made of recyclable material.
One park in particular – the Grand Canyon – said that bottled water accounted for 20 percent of its overall waste stream, or more than 500 tons of waste, until it phased out bottles last year. Fourteen other parks have followed the Grand Canyon’s example with more considering the move thanks to efforts led by Corporate Accountability International’s Think Outside the Bottle campaign, which supports organizations and individuals in switching from bottled water to tap.
Beyond just the environmental impact, bottled water also has a negative impact on your wallet. The cost per gallon of bottled water is even higher than the cost of gas (even on Memorial Day Weekend!). Over the course of a year, if you drank the recommended eight glasses of water a day from the tap, it would cost far less than a dollar. Compare that to $1,400 you would need to get your daily allowance through bottled water. Just think, if you followed the NPS’s lead and switched now, by next Memorial Day you would have enough savings to pay for the family’s next national park vacation!
Imagine you’re out for a stroll on the waterfront on a beautiful spring day. The harbor is bustling, the birds are chirping, boats are buzzing by – and suddenly, out of nowhere, appears a giant rubber ducky. Have you stumbled into Ernie from Sesame Street’s dream world? No, you’ve most likely happened upon Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman’s six-story inflatable art installation, aptly named Rubber Duck.
For the past six years, Rubber Duck has been jet-setting around the world – from Japan to New Zealand to Brazil. This non-discriminatory, non-political faux waterfowl embodies Hofman’s intention to make people stop and enjoy life, and perhaps strike up a conversation with the stranger walking next to them. As he put it in one news article, the purpose of the sculpture is to show that we’re all one family living on one planet and that “all the waters in the world is our global bathtub and it joins people together… it also means that we have to take care of each other, you know, and be responsible about this planet as you are responsible about your own house and bath.”
Hofman’s take really does put things into perspective. If you’ve ever shared a bathroom with roommates, you know the importance of all parties keeping a commitment to cleanliness! When we think of our planet in a similar way, it drives home the point that as businesses and individuals alike, we have a shared responsibility to do our part to protect the environment that we all share. Especially now, with the threats posed to our planet by climate change, Rubber Duck’s message couldn’t be more important.
A few weeks ago on Earth Day, I talked about some easy tips we can all do to help protect our water supply, and as the globetrotting ducky makes a stop in the U.S. in June, it’s a good reminder to have this message stay top-of-mind every day. Keep an eye out for it the next time you’re out for a walk by the water…you never know what you may see. And be sure to do your part to keep our global bathtubs clean.
P.S. American Water started a petition to bring this duck to the Delaware River, between Philadelphia and Camden, N.J. Click here if you’d like to sign it.
It is the first full week of May, which means…it is Drinking Water Week! The American Water Works Association has celebrated this week for more than 35 years as a chance to get the public and community involved and educated about the need for safe drinking water. It is also a week to celebrate water and the vital roles it plays in all of our lives each day.
This year’s theme is “What do you know about H20,” and I’m betting there’s a lot about water and how it gets to your tap that you don’t realize. Water plays a critical role in our daily lives and the quality of life we enjoy. This Drinking Water Week let’s all make the commitment to learn more by getting to know our H20!
Learning, of course, starts with asking questions, such as:
- Are there places with water shortages in North America?
- What’s involved in the water treatment process?
- What are some ways that I can help conserve water?
- What is water used for, other than drinking?
The American Water Works Association gives many different celebration ideas for Drinking Water Week, and it’s likely that a number of organizations in your local community are taking part in events or discussions. I urge you to seek out and participate in at least one Drinking Water Week gathering, and share what you learned so that others can benefit as well.
Everyone probably knows the ubiquitous drinking water fountain found throughout schools, gyms, libraries, museums and any number of buildings we enter on a daily basis. It’s funny to think that the basic design of these fountains (or “bubblers”) has not really changed since its development by Kohler in 1889. But that classic design has not kept up with our changing world. Today, it seems water fountains are used more to fill up water bottles that people bring with them places, rather than drinking directly from the fountain.
Students in an environmental group made up of students from several high schools in Fayette County in Kentucky noticed this, and had an innovative idea after seeing so many of their classmates refilling their plastic water bottles up each day. Instead of water fountains in their schools, they decided they wanted to install “reusable water bottle refill stations.” They thought this would encourage students to use reusable water bottles instead of disposable plastic ones, which continue to hit our landfills each year. In addition to the environmental reason for the project, the students also referenced tap water as a healthier option for hydration than sugary sodas and juices.
After placing these new stations in the cafeterias and other high traffic areas in their schools, the students saw immediate results. In just the first week, 3,600 containers were filled across their schools (as tracked by a nifty meter on the fountain), and the usage of the stations has been increasing each month since February. By making a small change in their schools, there will be a huge impact on the amount of disposable plastic bottles being used, many of which could end up in landfills.
Imagine that if for every place you remember seeing a water fountain throughout our life, instead there is now a reusable water bottle refill station. We could cut the 50 billion plastic water bottles that end up in landfills each year in half through a simple innovative idea. It is said that plastic bottles take up to 700 years to decompose in our landfills. Clearly, if those bottles no longer existed, our environment would be a lot better off.
As we head into Drinking Water Week, these refill stations are an interesting concept to consider making a push for. Of course, the more demand that exists, the more likely it is to happen. With that being said, I encourage each of you to choose a reusable bottle instead of disposable plastic. It is a simple switch that has a lasting impact!
You know all of those prescription medications that have been sitting in your bathroom cabinet for longer than you can remember? Maybe you didn’t need them anymore and just forgot about them. We all have them; however, not all of us dispose of them properly. In doing so, we could actually be harming ourselves, and our most precious resource – water!
As I’ve previously written, improper disposal of pharmaceuticals is causing our water systems to become unsafe. Flushing medications down the toilet leads them right into our water system, and throwing them in the trash takes years for them to degrade, which in turn causes them to end up in ground water.
Fortunately, this Saturday, April 27th is a National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. On this day I urge you to rummage through that medicine cabinet of yours, and take out all of your old prescriptions that you no longer need. Next, take them to drop off places in your area, such as a police department, city hall or pharmacy.
You can find a drop off location in your area through this link.
In the five previous Take-Back events, the DEA in conjunction with their partners, have collected more than 2 million pounds (1,018 tons) of prescription medications. That’s the equivalent to the weight of more than 500 cars! Try to picture that traffic jam of expired medication and you may get a sense of why this is so important.
I hope you’ll participate and help your household, community, and local environment with a very simple action. Get involved. Just say no to drugs (in our environment)!
It’s that time of year again…Earth Day 2013 is here! This year’s theme is “The Face of Climate Change”, which is incorporating social media in an effort to raise awareness about the massive challenges that changes in climate present and the efforts underway worldwide around the world.
This day of specific acknowledgment is so important, especially as the number of extreme weather events seems to grow each year, putting a greater strain on our nation’s water infrastructure. Earth Day is a great time to remind us all that our most precious resource, water, is not to be wasted or undervalued. It’s a day to remind us to do our part to ensure that we protect our environment to the best of our abilities, and its vital resources.
Don’t forget the important role you can play in preserving the sustainability of the nation’s water supply, including following these tips to make every day Earth Day when it comes to water:
- Be conscious of your daily water use and take the necessary steps inside and outside your home to be water smart. Simple actions like turning off the tap while brushing your teeth or washing dishes, only running full loads in the clothes and dish washer, and using a broom instead of a hose to clean up outside walkways, can make a big difference. Also consider replacing old fixtures with water efficient ones, such as those with the EPA WaterSense label.
- Regularly check for leaking toilets, pipes and faucets — indoors and outdoors — and repair them promptly.
- Drink water wisely — keep a reusable bottle of tap water handy. Avoid purchasing bottled water; in addition to being more expensive and less stringently regulated as tap, it is less environmentally friendly. As many as 85 percent of plastic water bottles — an average of 38 million bottles a year — are sent to landfills rather than recycled, despite being made of recyclable materials, according to the Container Recycling Institute.
- Take care in the use and disposal of garden, lawn, garage or other home products and ensure that they do not find their way into groundwater.
- Dispose of unused or expired medicines properly. Don’t pour them directly into home drains, the sewer, street drains or the lawn, and don’t flush them down the toilet.
The point in the end is that we are all the face of climate change, and we all have the ability to make a positive impact, so I ask you all to participate in this year’s campaign! Through the Earth Day website, or your Instagram and Twitter accounts, take pictures of your Earth Day-related activities to share with the world. This campaign is a creative way to get people of all ages involved in Earth Day and explain the importance of preserving the environment and its resources. The more people who participate, the more of an impact it will have!
My kids had a game they’d often play on long car rides called “would you rather?” Their questions were usually along the lines of “would you rather be able to ONLY eat your favorite food, or never be able to eat it again?” or “Would you rather have to kiss a pig, or touch grandma’s dentures?”It was a fun distraction, but a recent news article reminded of the game by asking “Would you rather have a cell phone, or a working toilet?”
As much as I enjoy being easily connected with people via my cell phone, I am a lot fonder of proper sanitation! My response would be to pick the toilet. However, according to a recent U.N. report, more people around the world have access to a cell phone than to a working toilet. The study claims that of the world’s estimated 7 billion people, 6 billion people have access to mobile phones. However, only 4.5 billion have access to a toilet. E.T. might be able to phone home, but he’d have a hard time finding a potty!
This is an alarming statistic considering the implications that a working toilet has upon sanitation, a clean environment, and social welfare. Proper disposal of fecal waste is not only important for personal sanitation, but it breaks the cycle of disease by preventing contamination of drinking water supplies. Did you know that world-wide, diarrhea is responsible for 1.5 million deaths every year? Diarrhea is a major killer among children under five and it is largely preventable.
Case in point, India makes up 60% of the world’s population that lacks access to proper sanitation (626 million people), however there are an estimated 1 billion people with cell phones! The Ganges River in India has nearly 300,000 gallons of raw sewage dumped into it every minute! A startling figure considering that one gram (0.035 ounce) of feces can contain 10 million viruses, one million bacteria, 1000 parasite cysts and 100 worm eggs (OK gross, but I’m a microbiologist!).
But this is not just a developing world issue; over 15 million people in America still do not have access to proper sanitation. Infectious disease stunts child development and learning, promotes poverty, and increases the cost of social services. (It is estimated that every $1 invested in sanitation returns $9 in benefits.) It would seem that our world is becoming more attached to cell phones and technology and forgetting about the important everyday things like sanitary living conditions and access to toilets.
Thankfully, the U.N. Deputy Secretary- General Jan Eliasson announced that the organization is launching an effort to halve the number of those without access to toilets by the end of 2015. Eliasson said recently, “Let’s face it- this is a problem that people do not like to talk about. But it goes to the heart of ensuring good health, a clean environment and fundamental human dignity for billions of people.” Also adding to the effort is the Bill Gates Foundation. In August of 2012, they begin their own efforts to “reinvent the toilet” in order to help curb the number of people around the world that do not have access to proper sanitary waste disposal.
Knowing all this information now, if we were in the car together and you had to answer the question, “Would you rather have a cell phone or a toilet?” What would you say? And should we even really have to pick one or the other?
Water quality and reliable water infrastructure are necessary for our communities and environment to thrive. Over 40 years of data shows that investing in water infrastructure helps the boost the economy. In addition, with resilient water infrastructure comes better enhancement for industries and businesses, which attracts more qualified workers and creates more jobs.
Coming up next week, The Water Environment Federation (WEF) and its Water for Jobs partners are hosting a free event, both in person and available online, called the National Water Infrastructure Summit. American Water’s John Bigelow will be the moderator for the event, where leaders in local and state governments will share their thoughts and ideas about the need for better water infrastructure systems to ensure a better future for the environment.
The Water for Jobs campaign is raising awareness that water investment creates jobs, drives innovation, and safeguards public health. Water infrastructure is critical to protect the quality of life and the sustainability of our environment.
The event takes place on Tuesday, April 16 in Washington, DC from 10 a.m. – 12 p.m., and you can register here. Registration to attend in person closes today (April 10) at 5:00 p.m. Or you can register anytime to view the live stream at www.windrosemedia.com/windstream/wef.
If you’re interested in learning how upgrading our nation’s water infrastructure can also keep our economy growing, I hope you’ll participate or watch next Tuesday.