Gray and Green Water

Don Elder speaks

During the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act in 2002, 30 “national water heroes” were singled out for recognition. Don Elder was one of them. Today Don serves as president of the River Network, a national organization that supports the efforts of state and local river conservation organizations. In April, I joined a small group of health environmentalists to hear what was on Don’s mind these days, since he has historically been one step ahead of everyone else. What I heard surprised me.

According to Don, the two great global and social issues of our day are climate change and water availability, and their solution is inseparably integrated. If we don’t act fast, we face catastrophic impact: The 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts a 4 to 5 degree rise in temperature and an 11 to 23 inch rise in sea levels by the end of the century if we maintain our current course.

Added to climate change and water is our vexing energy situation – and it is intertwined with them, as well. But Don is optimistic. He believes that the fastest way to save energy, and in turn address climate change, is to save water. He says: “Saving energy by saving water will keep coal and oil in the ground, carbon out of the air, water in our streams, and money in our pockets.” And he has the facts to prove it.

We are incredibly wasteful with water in the United States, using 200 gallons a day for every man, woman and child. But Don says we could decrease per-capita water consumption in America by 20% in 10 years, 50% in 25 years and 75% in 50 years.

How is that possible and what’s in it for us? If you are like me, you’re not immediately seeing the connection between water and energy consumption. But in a nutshell, Don’s thesis is that we consume enormous amounts of energy in processing water in the United States – everything from pumping it, transporting it, capturing it and cleansing it – and we could lower these energy costs dramatically through new water policies. You would also be amazed to know how much energy you use heating and dumping water in your home. Each sink of hot water for dishes, each toilet-flush, consume more energy than you think.

Water is energy – that’s the bottom line message. Don outlines all kinds of strategies for saving water and energy, thus impacting the climate. Example: In the future, as we replace appliances and water systems, we’ll be going to systems that reuse and recycle. So the water you use to shower will be able to be used to flush a toilet. Experts refer to this as a “grey water” concept. And there are lots of other ideas, which I explain in this week’s video, embedded with this blog post. You can also read about them in the full transcript, below.

It seems to me that if we want to get off of foreign oil or want our air to be clean of carbon, we should be thinking about water. What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know.

See Also

  • Introduction to the Clean Water Act
  • This Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) site explains the background and impact of the Clean Water Act
  • Water Sense
  • This EPA site provides ideas for saving water and protecting the environment.