Why Water Conservation is More Important Than Ever

Water conservation is more important than ever as the United States is experiencing widespread drought conditions with nearly half of the lower 48 states and some 130.3 million people currently affected by drought.

The drought is especially severe across the west where Lake Mead on the Colorado River has seen five of its six boat launches close as the nation’s largest reservoir sits at 27 percent capacity, its lowest level since it was being filled in 1937.

And in Texas where severe drought across the state has left 113 million-year-old dinosaur tracks uncovered in the almost dried-up Paluxy River.

“Almost the entire state of Texas is experiencing a severe level of drought, and only a few corners of the state, such as El Paso, are not “abnormally dry” amid this year’s particularly hot summer,” reported the Texas Tribune on Aug. 19, 2022. “And while the state is seeing some pockets of rain in late August, the drought likely will extend into winter because of current climate patterns that could lead to hotter and drier weather.”

Behind the Drought: La Niña + Hotter Temperatures

What happens in the Pacific Ocean near Mexico and South America is important to the weather patterns in Texas and other parts of the southern U.S.

When the surface water is warmer than usual, the climate pattern is called El Niño and it leads to more rain and moisture in Texas.

The opposite, however, which is cooler than normal surface water temperatures lead to the climate pattern called La Niña which leads to drier conditions in Texas.

La Niña has prevailed now for two years and combined with the triple digits the state has experienced this summer, has worsened the drought.

“We’ve been having several months of exceptionally high temperatures and below-normal rainfall, and as long as that’s going on, drought conditions get worse,” Texas state climatologist and Texas A&M regents professor Nielsen-Gammon told the Texas Tribune.

Wide Ranging Effects of the Current Drought in Texas

The Texas Tribune reported that the current drought, the worst conditions since 2011, has had a wide range effect across the Lone Star State:

  • Ranchers are selling off cattle for meat because they can’t keep them because of a lack of forage and water.
  • Farmers are fearing crop losses because of lack of moisture in the ground.
  • The risk of wildfires has spread across the state because of the tinderbox conditions.
  • In South Texas, served by reservoirs along the Rio Grande, there are water shortage concerns with the Falcon Reservoir reaching historically low levels.

Falcon is shockingly only 9 percent full and nearby Amistad Reservoir is under 33 percent full.

“It’s reached its historic low,” Maria-Elena Giner, commissioner of the International Boundary and Water Commission, told the Texas Tribune. “This is a historic moment in terms of what our agency is facing in challenges.”

Water Restrictions and Pleas for Water Conservation

Officials across Texas, and other states, have responded to the current drought and depleting water supplies, with a combination of water restrictions and pleas for water conservation.

As of Aug. 19, 2022, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) lists more than 450 public water systems (PWSs) currently limiting water use to avoid shortages.

The list of communities limiting water usage ranges from Atascosa to Zapata and

“A few public water systems in the counties of Uvalde, Denton and Kerr have also declared emergencies, a sign they could run out of water within 45 days, according to the TCEQ,” reported the Tribune.

In fact, the latest TCEQ update lists:

  • 4 PWSs in priority O: Water service interrupted (Frio, Hill, Kerr, Polk counties)

  • 3 PWSs in priority E: Could be out of water in 45 days or less (Denton, Uvalde counties)

  • 5 PWSs in priority P: Could be out of water in 90 days or less (Comal, Lubbock, Parker, Real counties)

  • 9 PWSs in priority C: Could be out of water in 180 days or less (Briscoe, Burnet, Kent, Limestone, San Patricio, San Saba, Wood, Zapata counties).

While most of the public water suppliers have issued voluntary, mild or moderate water restrictions, nearly 50 of the agencies have put severe water restrictions in place.

“City officials in the North Texas town of Gunter warned in July that they could run out of water after residents failed to heed calls for conservation and two water wells malfunctioned,” reported the Tribune. “In Uvalde County, five of eight groundwater wells in the small town of Concan have run out of water, requiring leaders to truck water across the town every day.”

Ways to Conserve Water: From Lawns to Leaks

One of the top ways to conserve water, according to experts, is to cut back on water use for landscaping.

If you must water your lawn and plants, try:

  • Avoid watering during the middle of day to prevent the water from evaporating
  • Try releasing the water closer to the ground
  • Do not put irrigation systems on automatic schedules but water manually as needed
  • Select grasses and plants that require less water and that are more drought tolerant
  • Adding rainwater collection systems

You can also conserve water by checking for leaks around your home. According to the EPA, “the average household’s leaks can account for nearly 10,000 gallons of water wasted every year and 10 percent of homes have leaks that waste 90 gallons or more per day.”

Common types of leaks, that can be fixed by the homeowner or with the help of a professional plumber, include:

  • Worn toilet flappers
  • Dripping faucets
  • Showerhead leaks
  • Other leaking valves

Turning off water when not in active use, such as when you are brushing your teeth, shaving, or showering, can add up to a savings with the EPA estimating that two minutes of letting the water flow while brushing your pearly whites sends eight gallons of water per day down the drain.

Consequences of Not Conserving Water for the Future

It may seem like water is abundant on our planet but just a fraction of the water on earth is freshwater, and less than 1 percent of that is accessible for human use.

“It is important to conserve water now because, if the human race does not conserve water, there may be disruptions in the supply of food and clean water available for human consumption,” wrote Sarah Cairoli in Sciencing.

Scarce water supplies will have a direct impact on food supply, with 70 percent of water today used for crops and livestock.

“Conserving water will help maintain the water supply necessary for food production. Crops cannot grow without adequate moisture, so if the water supply diminishes, food prices will rise, and more people will experience food insecurity,” writes Cairoli. “Conserving water at home and at workplaces will make more available for the essential task of producing food crops.”

Not conserving water will also have an impact on other ecosystems with animal and plant life dependent on water sources that are disappearing, with more than half the earth’s wetlands having dried up or been destroyed.

Some experts have warned that not only will there be a danger of food shortages and lack of access to clean water if we do not conserve water now, but it could also lead to:

  • Increased Global Conflicts: Freshwater resources are often shared by more than one country (such as the reservoirs in Texas along the Rio Grande) and water shortages could lead to conflicts between nations fighting over dwindling supplies.
  • Energy Shortages: Energy producers are some of the biggest consumers of freshwater and shortages can hamper their ability to adequately fuel the power grid.
  • Economic Shutdowns: The food supply chain is not the only sector dependent on water as manufacturers use water for many purposes, including fabrication, processing, washing, diluting, cooling, and transporting goods. During drought conditions, reductions in the amount of available water can reduce manufacturing productivity or even lead to temporary closures of key manufacturing facilities.

“Since each of us depends on water to sustain life, it is our responsibility to learn more about water conservation and how we can help keep our sources pure and safe for generations to come,” said The Balance.

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