Our Leaders Must Lead to Reduce Water Consumption

I was reading the paper at a coffeehouse the other morning and having that slightly despairing feeling as I read the latest article about our rapidly evaporating (literally) water supplies. I kept looking for the paragraph that would highlight what civic leaders are doing to deal with the looming crisis. But it seems like many of our leaders have lost their nerve, or they just don’t know what to do.

They seem to alternate between Chicken Little shouting about how dire the situation is, and desperate calls for big, dramatic (and hugely expensive) engineering “solutions”…from the 1930s. We are in a completely different reality in the 21st century, of course, but no matter. We want new dams and reservoirs, even if they won’t have any water to hold.

Whether we want to look at it or not, we are in a long, uphill battle to learn how to deal with the impacts of climate change, especially as it relates to fresh water. The good news is that we have solutions that we know work and they are right in front of us. The bad news, if you want to look at it that way, is that there is no magic cure, just lots of small, effective steps, which taken together…actually work.

I’m talking about communities investing in water conservation and efficiency. Before that image of Jimmy Carter in his cardigan telling us to turn down the thermostat pops into your head (if you’re older than 35), let me stress that I am talking about what can work right now.

Cities like Seattle and Austin and New York have quietly been reducing their overall water consumption by 20 to 30 percent by helping households switch to more efficient toilets, faucets, and showerheads, dishwashers and clothes washers. And I’m sure it doesn’t hurt to “snap that tap” either – like the creative video above shows.

So, back at my desk, still in a funk, thinking “Why aren’t we doing this everywhere???” -an email drops into my inbox from Jenny Hoffner, who runs our national water efficiency campaign from Atlanta. The night before, she notes, DeKalb County’s board (DeKalb is one of Atlanta’s big counties) passed an ordinance requiring homeowners purchasing a home to replace toilets and showerheads older than 1993 with low-flow versions when they reconnect to the water utility.

Read the full story, New Rules to Flush Out Old Toilets (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

American Rivers supported the measure, and sent email alerts to our members in Georgia. By retrofitting these older plumbing fixtures in its 165,000 pre-1993 homes, DeKalb will save nearly 9 million gallons per day – that’s nearly 10% of their current daily withdrawal. The ordinance was sponsored by CEO Vernon Jones and Commissioner Jeff Rader.

Even the small steps add up. And who says we don’t have leaders willing to step up with real solutions? We just need more of them.

For more information on the DeKalb County, view the “Retrofit on Reconnect” (PDF) Ordinance.