The US is a water hog - scientists say conservation is a must
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05/24/13 Janelle Irwin
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People in the United States use about twice as much water as other countries. That’s one of the many problems mulled over today by a team of researchers at an annual water conference at the USF Patel College of Global Sustainability.

“About 40% of the water that we use in the region is for outdoor water use.”

That’s Christine Owen, the senior manager for regulatory compliance for Tampa Bay Water.

“And each government calculates what their per capita is. But if you look at our region, it’s about 120 gallons per person per day and that translates into, how much water you use in a day relative to other parts of the world, the whole United States uses a lot more water than other places. Some of the figures that the students were mentioning were, they typically use about half or less than we do in the United States.”

Graduate students from 24 nations talked about how their countries use far less water than the U.S. One of the speakers, Krissna Khatri is a Patel College of Global Sustainability researcher.

“It’s because they are using the [treated] water for gardening or agriculture or other … so, maybe that can be reduced.”

Tampa Bay Water provides potable water to local governments in the Bay area – that means water clean enough for human consumption. Owen said keeping up with demand has become an even bigger challenge for the agency since their main reservoir was closed for repairs earlier this year.

“We are encouraging people to only use the water that they need. We are managing the groundwater use so that we don’t exceed our permitted quantity. We are using our desal plant. The desal plant is running at about 20 MGD right now and that’s keeping us in a good, safe range.”

20 MGD means the desalination plant run by Tampa Bay Water is producing 20 million gallons of water for its users per day. The C.W. Bill Young Reservoir that closed due to cracks in its lining will reopen in about two years, but regardless, needs are expected to grow. Jochen Eckart is a researcher at the Patel College of Global Sustainability. He said urban centers like the Tampa Bay area need to look for water sources that are beyond what’s obvious.

“Black water – which is basically the water from the toilet with the feces in it. Then we have the greywater which is the water from the washing basin from the kitchen which is a much, much less polluted than the water from the toilet. And then we even have the yellow water – basically the urine.”

Some places like Singapore reclaim wastewater for drinking water. The process is often referred to as “toilet to tap.” That’s not the case in the U.S. where many people are too grossed out by the concept. Eckart said there are still non-potable uses that could feed into the water supply.

“Laundry, washing machine – you don’t have to use drinking water, you’ll use good reclaimed water, this would also be fine. Flushing toilets. We don’t need drinking water flushing toilets…”

Conservation has become a huge part of maintaining sustainable water supplies, especially in developed areas. Eckart said the city of Dunedin has developed a model reclaimed irrigation system.

“They have a really extended network where they provide reclaimed water to the customer. I think Dunedin, more or less, [covers] their whole city with this network so [they have] reduced the water demand.”

Dunedin also uses smart meters to monitor household water consumption.

“It helps them to better think about how much water they use. The water … enforcing restrictions. If you have irrigation restrictions for a certain time, you can read it on the water meter if they followed it, yes or no. So, it helps with enforcing certain water conservation restrictions.”

Teaching conservation to adults who have spent their lives leaving faucets on while doing dishes or needlessly flushing hair down the toilet could be difficult. So the education partnership coordinator at the Patel Center, Alyssa Vinson, teaches kids instead. She said kids in high school are tasked with studying their family’s water consumption habits.

“And then they have to write a plan of action for how they’re going to reduce their water usage. One of the schools in particular that I work with, some of the things the students do is, they’ll collect water from the air conditioning condensers and use it to water their gardens that they have at their school.”

Vinson teaches sustainability to students all the way down to elementary school. She said a lot of the lessons they learn are taken home where kids have a knack for convincing their parents to follow suit.



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