The Water Problem

February 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Having returned from a semester abroad and adjusting once again to life at college, I find myself coming across little things that could really be improved on this campus. Among my biggest problems is the lack of water fountains in my new dorm. For me, it’s not particularly an issue–I’ll just drink from the tap. But I know for a fact that many people are unwilling to drink tap water. While University regulations require the school to check that the water is safe for drinking, I think most students are either unaware of this fact, wary nonetheless, or just prefer the taste of bottled water. What they might not know, however, is that tap water is more rigidly regulated than bottled water (check out the cool infographic below).

A 2009 article from the NYTimes (Sarah Goodman) does a good job of explaining how and why, here. As Goodman explains, it is ultimately because the EPA is responsible for tap water, while the FDA is responsible for bottled. Thanks to the Safe Drinking Water Act (1996), the EPA has the authority to demand information about the water sources and adherence to regulations for public water, while the FDA does not. I don’t believe this is common knowledge on my campus, and I wonder how many students would happily switch over to tap water once they learned the facts. Still, for the time being it stands that most students buy bottled water almost daily without any hesitation. But why buy water from a distant source when you can get it in the tap for free?

This is not to say I think we should treat water as free. After all, it absolutely isn’t, and the amount of fresh water that exists on earth is frightening to think about. In fact, I’ll provide a little graphic to convey the idea of how much water on earth there really is. The picture below shows the volume of the earth compared to the volume of water on earth.

Even scarier is the fact that of that small amount of water, less than 3 % of it is freshwater, and most of that 3% is locked up in groundwater, glaciers and ice caps. So in fact, the freshwater available for global consumption today is less than 1% of the entire water on the earth’s surface. Think about that for a minute.

So when we get the idea that water is  an unlimited resource that we can use to our heart’s desire, we are in fact exercising a quite fallacious and dangerous belief. Water should be conserved, not only because there is so little but because we don’t need that much in the first place! It might seem I’m spinning a contradictory web here, but in fact I’m not. While I’m encouraging people to stop buying bottled water, I’m also saying: look! Tap water is free and healthy! But I don’t want students to think it’s unlimited. Keep an open mind about consumption. Be aware of how much water you need, versus how much you waste. Obviously you’re not wasting water if you’re using it to hydrate, but do you really need to keep the shower running while you brush your teeth at the sink?

For all those who are afraid to drink tap water: buy a Brita filter or get a WaterBobble. That will solve the taste issue, as well as the tap water paranoia. For those who are unaware of the WaterBobble, it is a really neat reusable bottle with a filter inside that filters your water as you drink. Each filter is equal to 300 plastic-bottles’ worth of water, and you save money as well. The products are safe, without BPA or PVC, so don’t be skeptical of the plastic design. Their website is also just really cool in general, so I’m attaching the link here. Plus, they’re pretty cheap! Save yourself a bundle, save the planet from thousands of unnecessary plastic water bottles, and save the hassle of waiting for the Brita filter to get the job done!

Overall, I have two messages to convey. The first is obvious: plastic bottles are bad, just use something else and try to drink tap water–it’s honestly better! Secondly–don’t waste water! If we learn to control our own water use, we can be aware that the resource is precious and limited, while still enjoying nice, fresh water from the tap.



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