In a world that values technological progress so highly, it is crucial to remember the limits we face.
As our campus and our world continues to grow, the natural resources that we have been endowed with are becoming more and more scarce, particularly the one that is absolutely irreplaceable: clean water. And if peak water becomes anywhere near as scarce as oil is now, the powers in the world will already have killed entire nations protecting water reservoirs and the blood of millions will flow. So have respect.
But before the four horsemen break down your front door, a round of congratulatory applause should go to our very own UC Santa Cruz for promoting environmental conservation and earning many recognitions and awards for its ongoing effort to minimize our carbon footprint.
As students and affiliates, we can take great pride in saying that UCSC has respected the value of water. The 2007 UCSC Campus Sustainability Assessment states that “water consumption has risen only modestly since the 1980s: Despite a 72.7 percent rise in enrollment since 1986 to 1987, annual campus water consumption increased only 4.2 percent (185.2 to 192.9 million gallons).”
It gets even better. According to the same survey, “Annual per capita water usage fell 40 percent during the same time (from 22,022 to 13,282 gallons per student).” The good news is that our student body is becoming more aware of their water usage, and the low-flow appliances we began installing in 1993 work.
The truth of the matter is that the most water is used by indoor functions in residences: kitchens, bathrooms and laundry rooms. In 2003, residences alone accounted for 49.99 percent of the water used on the entire campus; UCSC used 565,601 gallons of water per day in total and residences used 237,535 of those gallons per day.
Now, if one counts all the indoor consumption (residences and public restrooms, the library, offices, athletic building, etc.), the indoor usage climbs to 61.26 percent of total water consumption at 346,500 gallons of water per day.
These numbers are staggering, but the good news is that the ability to conserve water is directly in your hands. And as UCSC continues to expand under the current Long Range Development Plan, everyone’s water usage will become more significant.
More importantly, the reason the power is in your hands is because technology cannot be relied on to solve all our problems. More often than not, technology simply allows us to prolong the inevitable.
For example, since 2005, Santa Cruz has talked about working to create a desalination plant to help meet water demands, especially during drought years. While this is an intriguing piece of technology, something that could allow us to tap into the largest body of water on the earth, we still must adhere to principles limiting the creation and destruction of matter and energy.
Still, it takes unbelievable amounts of energy to separate the components of saltwater to make it drinkable, and we are already facing issues regarding energy sources. It is uncertain what kind of environmental impacts such an operation would have, and all the components that are not bottled as fresh water need to be disposed of somewhere, somehow.
The point is that with any one “solution” comes a plethora of problems. We cannot keep expecting to act irresponsibly and then pray for technology to bail us out again. The best solution is found in each and every one of our homes and is the cornerstone of first-grade education: “reduce, reuse, and recycle.” Look into the future and let peak oil be an example of how countries respond when backed into a corner. “No blood for water” doesn’t work.
• How to Cut Down Your Water Use •
If you wash dishes by hand, fill one-half of the sink with soapy water and the other with clean water instead of letting the water run. Let dishes soak. Before washing dirty pans, wipe them with a paper towel to remove oil and burned bits.
Keep a pitcher of water in the refrigerator instead of running the tap water until it gets cold.
Keep a container in the sink and the shower to collect excess water, which you can use to water plants.
Select one glass to use for drinking each day. Instead of putting it in the sink or dishwasher and grabbing another one, reuse it.
Thaw foods in the refrigerator or in a bowl of hot water instead of using running water.
Avoid using the garbage disposal, which requires water to run. Put waste straight into the garbage.
Take a short shower instead of a bath. While a five-minute shower uses 12 to 25 gallons, a full tub requires about 70 gallons.
Do not run the water before stepping into the shower or putting the plug in the bath.
Take shorter showers — try to keep them under five minutes. Turn off the water while you soap yourself, shampoo your hair and shave.
Switch to an ultra low-flow showerhead. This could save you as much as 2.5 gallons for every minute you shower.
Install ultra-low-flush toilets or place a plastic bottle filled with water or sand in your toilet tank to reduce the amount of water used in each flush.
Check your toilet for leaks. Put dye tablets or food coloring in your toilet tank and wait to see if the color appears in the bowl (without flushing). If it does, you have a leak, and you should call your landlord or a plumber. Make sure your toilet’s flapper valve doesn’t stay open after flushing.
Only run the faucet when you are using the water. Turn it off for brushing your teeth, lathering with soap or shaving.