Be Curious! / Be Inspired! / Be Prepared! / Environment / Health/Fitness / Living / Science

Focus on Water & No Impact Wrap-Up

Do you consider yourself a bottled water afficianado? Well, friend, then you definitely want to check out the newly-released report card on bottle waters from the Environmental Working Group.

Think you should be worried about the quality of your tap water? It might be better than you think. Here’s a ranking of best tap water in cities with populations greater than 250,000. I might decide to use a top-of-the-line  water filter if I lived in Pensacola, FL (No. 100), but I’m feeling pretty good about living in Austin (No. 7).

Now blow your mind with this equation:

Let’s say I buy a 1-litre bottle of Evian at a pretty normal price of $1.19. It’s Texas, it’s hot, I drink it.

Now let’s say I keep the bottle to reuse (good). I fill it once a day with water from my kitchen tap, right here in Austin.

How many days of filling that bottle 1x/day will it take me to spend $1.19 in local tap water? (Austin, btw, has pretty high prices compared to other U.S. cities.)

G’head, guess. How long do you think it would take?  Three weeks? Three months? Try three years, six months and twelve days.

Yep. That’s another way to look at the real (absurd) price for that plastic bottle of water.

NO IMPACT FRIDAY: Use less water(or… every flush counts)

From space, it sure looks like we’ve got a whole lot of water, but I was a little shocked to learn that only 2.5% of that water is freshwater–and most of it is frozen in ice caps and glaciers.  And water conservation becomes increasingly important when we realize that the average American uses 100 gallons of water/day.

That’s amazing when you consider we can’t even seem to drink 8 glasses worth of the stuff each day for our health.

You know, the only time I’ve ever really looked at our water bill was a few months back when it went through the ceiling. Turns out we had a pipe leaking somewhere between the city’s line and our house. Our psychic plumber figured out where it was, fixed it, and our bills went back to normal.

But this experiment made me realize I’m not sure I know what “normal” is really supposed to be.


Tasks for the “Ms. Fix-It”  and “Your Outdoor Surroundings” badges ask scouts to  research, assess, and brainstorm any number of ways they can take action to become better stewards of our natural resources and protect our environment. Can I just go on the record again to say how fantastic it is that scouting instills this sense of responsibility in our youth?

We’ve covered trash/recycling, transportation, food and power in previous posts, and today we wrap it up with water.

They say the first step in fixing something is admitting you have a problem, right? So my first step was to check our water usage for the past 60 days through the City of Austin‘s Utilities website. I learned that we have averaged 117 gallons/day for the past 66 days. This is a little less than 60 gallons/person (less than average, but we can do better than that). This now becomes our baseline for future comparisons. And the job, of course, is to see what we can do to reduce it.

Web sites abound with excellent guidance on how to reduce your water footprint (try H2O Conserve to start), and here is our household’s new list of reminders and action steps:


  • Turn off the water while washing hands, brushing teeth, shaving.
  • Use the low-flow water saving setting on the shower head.
  • Shower less, and shower quickly–the length of one song.
  • Turn off the kitchen tap while soaping dishes by hand. Use less soap so less rinse water is needed.
  • Only run the dishwasher when it’s completely full.
  • Skip the garbage disposal and compost instead.
  • Only wash full loads.
  • Locally grown foods have needed less water to get to you; processed foods require considerably more water than fresh foods.
  • Get leaks fixed as soon as you see them.
  • Water the garden before 10a.m. or after 7p.m. to reduce the speed of evaporation.

Things we gotta try:

  • Make sure this year’s new garden plants are ALL native species. (We’ve headed in that direction the past several years, but I’ve still been suckered into thinking I could grow flowers you’ll only find in Minnesota. Not any more.)
  • While waiting for the shower water to heat up, stick a bucket under the faucet to collect the water that’s flowing — use it to water plants.
  • Install low-flow faucet aerators in your sinks.
  • Replace our standard flush mechanism with a dual flush mechanism.
  • If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.
  • Use less water to boil food–it’ll also help preserve nutrients. Use the leftover liquid to water plants.
  • Kiddie pools use less water over the long run than toys that are constantly shooting water. And old water from the pools can be used to water gardens, lawns.
  • Get that rainwater collection thing together!
  • Install a drip irrigation system for the garden.
  • Set lawn mower blade higher. Higher grass = less water evaporation.
  • Find out if any local carwashes recycle their water, and choose to give them our business.

Other tips not quite as applicable to us right now but might be to you:

  • If you don’t have a low-flow toilet, put a plastic bottle filled with water in your toilet tank to reduce the amount of water used per flush.
  • To check for a toilet leak, put dye or food coloring into the tank. If color appears in the bowl without flushing, there’s a leak that should be repaired.
  • Install a low-flow shower head. It may cost you some money up front, but your water conservation efforts will save you money down the road.
  • If you take a bath, keep the water level low, and consider re-using the water before you let it go down the drain
  • Fix those leaky faucets. You may think that a constant drip is just annoying, but it’s also a huge waste of water (you can lose about 20 gallons of water per day from a single drippy faucet!).
  • Use a pool cover to prevent a lot of evaporation. Also remember: the warmer the water, the faster the evaporation.
  • If you’re in the market for a decorative fountain, be sure to buy one that recirculates its water.
  • Hand water your lawn — uses less water than sprinklers.

As the No Impact Project reminds us, personal water use isn’t the only thing worth thinking about. We need to remember that a lot of water goes into getting food to our tables–through irrigation, transportation, and more. Freak yourself out with;  it’s where I learned that it takes 36 gallons of water to supply me with one cup of coffee. Do you find this as staggering as I do?

NO IMPACT WEEK: Wrapping it up

No Impact Saturday asked participants to find a way to give back to others through service–another beautiful alignment with many of the goals of scouting. To earn these badges, however, we’re looking at ongoing service , and I’m still considering a number of projects over the coming year. Your patience on this, please.

No Impact Sunday asked participants to take an Eco Sabbath for some part of the day–no internet, no phone, no TV, no electricity, no cooking, no driving. For just a couple of hours, you get doctor’s orders to chill and be still. Thank you, doctor. It reminded me, again, of the night one year ago this week when the lights went out at a beach house in Surfside, Texas. With no distractions, with nothing to do, I had a chance to just be–to sit in front of a fire on the beach in sub-freezing temperatures, dog in lap, stars in sky, surf so close–and think an idea I’d not thought before.

What’s next?

It seems like there’s a big to-do list to minimize our household footprint now, but it doesn’t feel overwhelming. It seems as though we’re looking at a lot of small, doable steps coupled with a few larger projects.

Coupled with all that doing, I vote that everyone build an Eco Sabbath into my week, just for a few hours, without fail–sturdy and unwavering permission to unplug.

Personally, I’m in the Al Gore camp that believes we humans are, in large measure, responsible for the mess we’re in. But I also don’t much think it matters if you believe in man-made climate change or global warming. I don’t think if much matters if you believe that humans have caused the great lion’s share of our planet’s ecological issues or you believe that the planet is simply experiencing a cyclical pattern of greenhouse gasses. Doesn’t matter.

What DOES matter is that our planetary house is on fire, and that’s pretty hard to dispute, no matter what the origin. So a project like the No Impact Experiment has value in its potential to shift behaviors, small and large, of people in industrialized nations. Whether or not we lit the fire, we better learn to put it out.

Too bad there’s not a lot of water to do it.


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