Water, Water Everywhere Р Or Is It?

How is your department conserving this precious commodity? © Can Stock Photo Inc. / michaeljung

If someone were to ask you: What is the most valuable resource on earth? What would you say? Diamonds? Rubies? Gold? Titanium? Oil?

Those would be valid choices; however, I submit that water is the most taken-for-granted but absolutely-essential element in our world. People pontificate about the value of diamonds or gold, but they pale in comparison to the vital importance of water. Quite simply, we can’t live without it.

Think about it: throughout history people have planned and lived their lives around it. Where it was plentiful, it was taken for granted; where it was scarce, it was coveted.

One of the other oddities of history is that water availability has never been a certainty. Weather and climate changes and sometimes man’s own ignorance have often turned feast to famine – literally- when it comes to water. Take for instance the Great Dust Bowl in western U.S. in the 1930s: climate change and drought coupled with poor farming practices equaled disaster.

In current times, precipitation and drought patterns in the U.S. have been doing some mind-numbing antics as well.

I remember looking at the U.S. Drought Monitor map in 2007; the Drought Monitor is produced in partnership between the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ( http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu ).

In 2007 the severe and extreme drought areas covered the far southwest and the southeastern U.S. Things were serious and I remember dire predictions for future water restrictions, some which are still in effect.

Today, however, the map shows the entire eastern half of the nation out of drought conditions entirely; now, the severe and extreme areas are in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas and Oklahoma.

My point here is that, in my humble opinion, water should never be taken for granted. Good water conservation practices should be constant and serious.

We waste a lot of water; even when it’s obvious that drought conditions exist, people insist they have to water their lawns, wash their cars, spray water on the kids and pressure wash the drive way; examples that lead me to believe that water is taken for granted.

I’ve had people tell me, “Well, the earth is three-quarters water so it’s never going to run out.” However, of that 75 percent, only one percent is actually available for human consumption. Most – about 97 percent - is tied up in sea water which is expensive to desalinate; about 2 percent is in the polar ice caps – that leaves one percent for the earth’s population to share.

One percent; according to the EPA, across the globe, water consumption has tripled in the last 50 years. EPA experts who study this for a living say that managing the supply and availability of water is one of the most critical natural resource issues facing the U.S. and the world.

We in the U.S. are fortunate; even though nearly every region in the U.S. has experienced water shortages in the last several years, there are other places in the world where it is a daily occurrence. One-third of Africans live without enough water every day, as do most in the Middle East.

In the U.S. at least 36 states are anticipating local, regional or statewide water shortages this year, even under non-drought conditions, says the EPA.

While people consume much of their water at home (a family of four can use about 400 gallons a day!), we also use a lot of it for our business and entertainment. I can’t even imagine how much water runs through the average water park every day.

So, as parks and rec professionals, what can we do to curb our appetite for water? Parks and rec departments can be huge water consumers; irrigation, water parks and pools, drinking fountains, toilets, arts and crafts, and so on are all water hogs.

I’d like to hear some ideas from PRB leaders who are readers in the field; what are you doing in your communities to address this critical issue?

Or, is it being ignored? Are all the warning signs being cast aside in the name of pleasing the public? Is the overwhelming demand for pretty, green playing fields and parks overriding the larger issue of water shortage?

In my humble opinion, there is a way to serve both purposes; I think we can have great fields and attractive parks and still cut down on water use.

I think waste versus use should be looked at first. Are fields and parks being over-watered? Is irrigation shut off when it’s raining? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen irrigation systems going full blast during a major days-long rain event.

Are leaking faucets, toilets or water fountains ignored for months – or years – instead of being fixed right away?

Are there areas being irrigated that don’t really need it, such as perimeter areas of parks that can be left in a natural state?

Is the entire parks and rec staff sensitized to the issue so they can be on the lookout for water waste?

Office and facility staffs can be the first to detect leaks. The maintenance staff can be a major player in this effort because they are in the field, every day, seeing things office staff may not see. But sometimes when we see something every day it slowly becomes invisible. So the entire staff has to be informed and encouraged to be on the lookout and report water waste.

Is the public encouraged to help? The users see things from a different perspective than staff, who can get so involved in their jobs that they fail to notice things like leaking faucets or toilets with sticking valves that run continuously.

It would be great to hear some ideas from the field. What are you doing that others might be able to emulate? Imitation is the highest form of flattery; so get flattered, share your story and let someone imitate you.

Randy Gaddo , a retired Marine who also served for 15 years in municipal parks and recreation, is now a full-time photojournalist who lives in Beaufort, S.C.; he can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email cwo4usmc@comcast.net.