It's World Water Day... now what?

Monday, March 26, 2012

(water fountain at the University of Ottawa)

So last week was World Water Day and I have to ask a question, what did you do to celebrate? I know what you are thinking, "World Water Day... Are you serious?"
You know, on a level I definitely feel you. Sure, water is super important, but come on... why not start celebrating air, or sunlight, or language?

We are pretty spoiled here in Canada when it comes to a lot of things and I think that water is at the top of that list. We so take it for granted that it is basically forgotten that people used to have to take staggered showers not even a century ago. We hear about things like drought in the Prairies, but it is an alien concept to most of us. If you want to flush a toilet, you don't even think twice. If you need water to drink, you go to a tap or buy it at a store. The idea that there was simply no more water does not compute in our minds.

The one beautiful thing about water is that we still recognize that it is valueless. You probably shower almost every day but you would likely never pay the same price for your shower water as you would for a bottle of water. A typical shower requires 160 liters of water. If you bathed in Evian you would need to pay over $400 for a shower. You would have to pay $18 every time you flushed the toilet. Hell, the average Canadian consumes about 300 litres of domestic water a day so at about $3 a litre we are talking about $900 a day.

Of course all of that is very unrealistic; here in Canada we would never tolerate those prices for water. But there is a dangerous side to this kind of thinking. Here in Canada we don't pay those prices but in some countries people are being asked to pay those prices relativistically.  And if we forget the role water plays in our lives, we risk allowing this gift of cheap and safe water to fall through the cracks.

I mentioned domestic water consumption is about 300 litres a day. But domestic consumption is actually a really small piece of the pie. It represents only the water you personally use everyday. It doesn't talk about the amount of water it takes to grow your food, to create the cotton for your jeans, to refine the gasoline in your car, to develop the plastics that permeate our lives, etc. What if the cost of water went up for all of these things?

The other day I received a message from someone on campus asking why we banned bottled water. Their argument is that we are artificially subsidizing a commodity and therefore creating a situation of unsustainable resource management. But the argument only makes sense if we are talking about sustainability from a purely economic dimension. If selling bottled water were more desirable than increasing the number of water fountains, then I suppose we should install pay toilets and showers on campus. But is that really what everyone wants? Sure we could make some quick cash but it would be devastating to the community and social fabric of the campus.

So that's it; that's my thesis in defence of celebrating water. If you ask me how we could celebrate the day, I think we could try to go through our day without using any water, go on trips to the local pond or water treatment plant, or watch a documentary about water (here are TreeHugger's suggestions). It is time that we stop forgetting how important water is on our daily lives and start valuing the world's most important resource.

~jON - campus sustainability manager
-photo credit - merissa mueller

You Might Also Like