How do Individual Conservation Efforts Affect Worldwide Availability of Drinking Water

Drops in the Bucket

There is a farmer I know who never stops to fill up a watering can to replenish his flower or vegetable gardens. He leaves one or two under the tap, and they get filled by the small leak he permits in the line. The amount of water which collects in these cans isn’t much: a few drops per minute (if it leaked worse, he’d fix it), but over a day or two, surprisingly, they fill with cool water. He always makes the rounds each day, and if it is going to be hot he pulls a watering can and takes care of business, putting it carefully back in place to be slowly refilled again and again.

This is one example of resourcefulness and conservation rolled into one, but it could serve as a metaphor for the contributions each of us make, and how they can quickly accumulate to our common benefit. We are, literally, each a mere drop in the bucket when it comes to the impact we have on the Earth in our lifetimes. We might burn down a forest, but aside from such imprecations by the few, it is as if an ant walked on a sequoia. Nobody would notice. The footprints we leave don’t create paths, but when lots of us keep using the same shortcuts through the woods a track becomes evident. It wasn’t the first walker, or the tenth, but the 500th that trod down the underbrush, stomped on a few mushrooms and saved the next ten thousand hikers some time on that trail. Likewise, the gallon or two of water my farmer saves from spilling wastefully on the grass goes right to work in a garden, but it took the silent addition of hundreds of thousands of tiny drops of water to fill up the can. (A prize to the math whiz who can calculate drops of H2O in a gallon). Us inhabitants can pool our talents, join our efforts together in meaningful ways to effect water-quality issues today. By becoming more educated about the politics of water, you may also be able to educate your own communities around water issues, with long-term benefits to all who get with the logic of your ideas.

Here is a small example. Vermont has some of the best spring water in the East, partially because we are strict with heavy industry, and watch over big developments for adverse impacts on the common water table. Suddenly, the state is faced with being too good for it’s own good: huge multi-national companies have set up bottled water industries in the state and are sucking up millions of gallons of good groundwater to sell in plastic pint bottles in stores across America and, presumably, the world. I’m proud that we have such a great resource, and that the rest of the planet believes in the quality of our waters. If we were talking about maple syrup, nature would regulate the amount of product we could produce each year, and that would limit sales to what the forests could produce. But the enormous water-bottlers aren’t taking just the water that comes from directly beneath their wells – they’re drawing my groundwater and your groundwater, too. It is quite possible that they could effectively drain the water table so far down that ordinary wells would be left high and dry. We’d have to buy our water down at the store – from these guys. Undemocratic, if you ask me.

This is another reason we need to band together on water issues. When individuals use more than their fair share of the common resources, it impacts each one of us. If we can think like a group, and somehow act together as a group the dwindling resource of good drinking water can be preserved as a gift to be shared among us all.