Tapping into the Truth

By Bill Giebler / August 31, 2012

Photo by Robin Jolin

“Either you bring the water to L.A. or you bring L.A. to the water.” With this famous line, John Huston’s character in the 1974 classic, Chinatown, reveals the complexity of a limited water supply.

Nineteen years later, Erin Brokovich exposed the other side of California’s water crisis— quality instead of quantity—with her instrumental role in the landmark 1993 case against Pacific Gas & Electric Company. Later immortalized in the blockbuster film Erin Brokovich, starring Julia Roberts, the case exposed the widespread industrial pollution of Southern California’s drinking-water supply.

Erin Brokovich on the case again. Photograph from “Last Call at the Oasis” By Participant Media

After yet another 19 years, most Americans remain unaware of the scope of the water crisis we face, and many consider it a third-world problem—even as the worst drought in over 60 years ravaged the United States this summer.

“Why aren’t we talking about this more?” says filmmaker Jessica Yu, whose recent film, Last Call at the Oasis, spotlights the water crisis that exists right here, right now. The film documents water shortages around the world and at home, beginning with battles waging in Nevada, and dwindling rainfall, snowpack and shrinking aquifers in California. It exposes pockets of carcinogenic hexavalent chromium—the same chemical as in the Brokovich case—found in Texas; runoff from the endocrine disrupting herbicide, Atrazine, in states throughout the Midwest; toxic levels of animal waste from CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) in Michigan. “Every single state has emailed me with some sort of problem,” says Brokovich. “It’s happening everywhere.”

What can each of us do to protect ourselves and our water? Conserve what you use and filter what you consume. Use low-flow toilets and flush less often, ditch the water-guzzling lawn (often 25 percent of household water use), turn off the water while you shampoo, shave or brush your teeth. Take a hard look at your water softener. “Most units waste as much water as they provide—especially those combined with a reverse osmosis filtration unit used to get the salt out,” says Justin Barker of Pelican Water, a leading manufacturer of salt-free water softeners. “Our units don’t waste one drop, don’t use electricity and don’t release salt into our fresh-water aquifers.”

Is conservation alone going to solve our problem? “I think the answer is ‘no,’” says Jay Famiglietti, Founding Director of the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling, University of California, Irvine. But filmmaker, Yu, doesn’t stop there. “The idea that we can slow this down is more graspable than the idea that we can solve it,” she told us. “The opportunity exists to improve, to make progress.”

“The weirdest thing,” says Yu, “is that it could be so depressing, considering most of us aren’t doing anything. But then you realize that just means the potential is huge as more people get involved.”

How to Conserve Water

The average American lifestyle is fueled by over 2,000 gallons of water a day. Only about five percent is related to household water use. In addition to reducing our direct water waste, it’s important to consider the hidden costs. Here are ways to reduce your hidden water footprint:

1. Eat less meat. The water used to process our food represents at least 50 percent of the average American’s water appetite. Meat and dairy are among the most water-intensive, and beef is the biggest culprit with about 350 gallons of water used to produce one three-ounce serving of beef.

2. Drink more water. That’s right! Soft drinks consume 600 to 1,200 cups of water for every cup of beverage. It makes more sense (and it’s healthier) to just drink the water.

3. Drive less. It takes about 13 gallons of water to produce one gallon of gasoline.

4.Conserve electricity. The electricity required to power a 75- watt incandescent bulb uses one gallon per hour more than a 20w-compact fluorescent.

5.Turn down the thermostat. Energy usage gobbles 25 percent of our water footprint.

6. Recycle your clothes. It takes 400 gallons of water to grow cotton for one shirt.

7. Carry your own recyclable water bottle. Three times the water you drink is used to manufacture the disposable bottle with over 60 million bottles discarded to landfills



Need a good water filter? Here are a few suggestions

Bill Giebler

Bill Giebler

Frequent OSM contributor Bill Giebler lives in Boulder, CO where he exercises his passion for wellness and sustainability. Over two decades in the natural products and solar energy industries have deeply informed his freelance writing. His work on eating, drinking, food and farming, yoga and solar have appeared in MSN, Edible Communities, GaiamLife, Green Living Journal and more. Bill was the 2014 recipient of the Grand Prize Solas Award for the Best Travel Story of the Year by the editors of the Travelers’ Tales book series.
Bill Giebler

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