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Water Crisis

10/23/07 1:51PM By Ruth Page
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(HOST) Lately we've been hearing a great deal about water shortages in southern states - both east and west, and in countries all around the world. Commentator Ruth Page says that even here at home we should be more thoughtful about our use of water.

(PAGE) Americans have been persuaded that if they don't have a shower every day, they're not clean. When you luxuriate in a warm bath, do you fill the tub as full as possible short of over-flowing? Do you buy water in plastic bottles to keep in the car, take to the gym, carry along on walks, bring to picnics? Do you strip at night and put every stitch you had on in the wash, whether or not it needs it? Millions of us do all these things, forgetting that in almost any other country you can name, they would be unthinkable. There isn't that much water available.

Just about every environmental magazine has written about Earth's limited water supply over the past decade or more; the latest article I read was in Natural History, which produced a whole issue on the subject, as the National Geographic did a year ago.

Apparently, North Americans are the most wasteful water-users on Earth. Residents of the U.S. and Canada use more than 150 gallons a day each, for domestic and municipal purposes, and that doesn't include farm and industry use. Compare our use with the United Kingdom's: they use just one-fifth as much as we do.

We also use soaps and other cleansers that contain anti-bacterials we don't need, increasing the risk that germs will develop resistance to the medications we depend on when we're actually sick.

We often hear that nobody's making more land for the world; well, they're not making any more water, either. Inside our atmospheric envelope, we're still using water millions of years old. On Earth, at least, there can be no life without water. Astronomers hoping to find other planetary life in the universe look first for signs of water.

The Middle East has serious water shortages, leading to constant tension, and feeding the ill-will that leads to conflict. We may think oil is vital to us, but we can live without oil. We can't live without water, and neither can anything else, from the amoebae to the giant redwoods. We've only to recall the Dust Bowl of the 30's to see how quickly plant and animal life fail without adequate fresh water.

It's as important to be thrifty with water as with money.

Ruth Page has been following environmental issues for 20 years. She is a long time Vermont resident and currently lives in Shelburne.
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