Tag Archives: U.S. Water Alliance

A Day Without Water?

The U.S. Water Alliance, along with 1,100 other nonprofits, water and wastewater districts, municipalities, businesses, schools, and state agencies throughout the U.S. will observe Imagine a Day Without Water on October 23.  The event is intended to remind us of the importance of water – natural waters and working water – and to renew our commitment to good stewardship of it.

I’ve noted the day for years, but today I actually took the suggestion – that is, tried to imagine having no water.

Daniel Hecht

Well, I wake up and stumble to the bathroom to wash my face, but the tap is dry and my face retains that puffy, crusty feeling.  Then I visit the toilet, but after finishing my business realize that I can’t make it go away with a push of the flush handle. 

Okay, bad start to the day.  But I grump downstairs for some coffee to help get myself into gear – only to discover I can’t make any!  My son is crabby: He has to go to school still sweaty from yesterday’s cross-fit workout because he can’t take a shower.  Also, he put his clothes in the washer and they just went round and round and are not up to high school social standards.  Of course, it’s moot anyway, because the school calls to say it’s closed because the bathrooms, labs, and sprinkler systems don’t work. 

My wife is not in a great mood either – the dishes in the dishwasher aren’t clean, and the dentist called to say her appointment has been canceled due to the absence of water. 

The radio says there’s a fire on the next block, but the fire department can’t put it out. There’s a crisis at the hospital because they can’t clean the operating rooms, hallways, or doctors’ hands.  Now the radio is interviewing a farmer who can’t water her cows or irrigate her crops. 

The cats are looking at me disapprovingly because their water dish is dry.  And I’m getting thirsty, too. 

This litany of woes could go on and on.  In fact, throughout the world, this is the status quo.  There’s not enough water, or the water that’s available is polluted or poorly-managed. For too many, this is not just an incovenience, but a matter of life and death.

The thing to remember is that it takes smart water policy to keep the faucets running.  We have to pro-actively protect natural waters so that we can enjoy and use them.  We need functioning water treatment facilities to make it safe to drink, and we need wastewater plants to clean up water we’ve polluted.  We need, literally, millions of miles of functioning pipe, hundreds of thousands of pumps, to bring it to us.  We need a professional community with the skills to operate this infrastructure 24/7/365.

So, this October 23, ponder the importance of water.  As the U.S. Water Alliance suggests, you might write a letter to the editor, your town council, or your legislator, saying you support investment in water infrastructure. 

And don’t forget that your household, on its own, can help keep your wastewater stream clean and keep the water running – read GMWEA’s “Don’t Flush It!” brochures!

Daniel Hecht, executive director, GMWEA

Click here to return to GMWEA’s website.

What’s the Big Idea? (1)

This is the first of a series of posts about big numbers, big systems, and big ideas.

Most water quality professionals don’t have time to worry much about the big picture.  People like facility operators, town managers, and DPW administrators are kept plenty busy treating their allotted gallons per day, fixing busted equipment, eliminating contaminants, completing reports, or searching municipal budgets to find money for maintenance.

But big ideas are crucial.  They provide inspiring visions — or warnings — that can move us to make good choices for the future.  No matter how well disciplined a ship’s crew, or how well maintained its mechanical systems, the first thing a ship needs when it leaves port is a destination.  

When it comes to how we manage water, we need to have the guidance of a larger vision.  We need to have an idea of where we ought to go.

First, we should remember that only about 1% of the world’s water is readily usable for us. That is, it exists as fresh (not salty), liquid (not frozen) water. Then factor in our ever-growing demand for it and our increasing pollution of it.  Obviously, we need a long-term vision for our management of this life-sustaining resource.

Next, we need to update our traditional vision of the “water cycle.”  In grade school, most of us learned a tidy four-part sequence: 1) water falls from the sky as rain or snow; 2) flows into rivers and lakes and oceans; 3) evaporates back into the sky; 4) condenses into clouds and falls again as precipitation.


Where are the homes, office towers, factories, power plants, and farm fields in this old-fashioned schematic?

But now we know there’s another phase in the cycle.  Humanity’s use and pollution of water requires that it go through extensive cleansing processes before it can return to the ground or surface waters, and before we can safely use it again. 

To understand why that’s so, we need a realistic sense of scale – how much water we use. 

Talk about “big!”  In the U.S., our  daily domestic use averages about 95 gallons per day, per person (variable by region).  When we flush, brush, shower, do the laundry, and water the lawn, we use about 32,000,000,000 gallons per day. Where does it all go?

32 billion gallons.  Per day.  Domestic use only. Just in the U.S.

Now consider that domestic use constitutes only about 13%, one-eighth, of the total amount of fresh water we use daily.  We use the other 87% in thermoelectric plants, irrigation, manufacturing, mining, and other functions. 

Not a drop of that water leaves our sinks, toilets, lawns, fields, pipes, or factories unpolluted.  That’s why 53% of America’s river and stream miles, 71% of our lake acres, 79% of our estuarian square miles, and 98% of Great Lakes shorelines are classified as “impaired” by at least one criterion in a 2018 U.S. EPA survey.

If you’re not daunted yet, be sure to read the next post on the bigness of our water infrastructure and the bigness of cost needed to make it work.  Then, on to some inspiring, solution-oriented Big Ideas offered by the U.S. Water Alliance!

Source for data and charts: U.S. EPA: https://www.epa.gov/watersense/how-we-use-water

To return to GMWEA’s website, go to www.gmwea.org.