Growing world demand for water demands conservation

Shirley Gun
Shirley Gun

World Water Day on March 22, as designated by the United Nations, reminded me of when my husband and I would go cruising on our 32-foot sailboat and how important fresh water became.

We packed enough food for five days and filled our below-deck water storage with 75 gallons to handle galley and bathing needs. Drinking water was stored in our coolers. Food was mainly eggs, rice, beans, fruit and vegetables, with meat for the first day and freshly caught fish when my husband went spear fishing.

Living self-contained made me realize how easy it is to waste water. I washed dishes and brushed my teeth more efficiently, mastered the art of the Navy shower and appreciated the value of water.

Another lesson learned was when my husband worked in Africa. He lived in a house with a 1,000-gallon storage tank that would be refilled on demand. This was a luxury most local people did not have in Kigali, Rwanda.

They carried five-gallon jerry cans of water on their heads from a communal well to their homes. It was humbling to see their efforts to maintain their quality of life.

Living in Florida also reminds me of the importance of conserving water.

Every time Lake Okeechobee's water level drops dangerously low, it makes the local evening news, since it threatens the potable water supply to millions of South Florida residents.

The South Florida Water Management District determines the need for stricter water usage and the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority uses its energy-intensive desalination plant to supplement the potable water for Keys residents. When the summer rains fall around the lake in Central Florida, we all breathe a sigh of relief.

Locally and globally, the competition for fresh water is high. Agriculture, food production, growing cities and industries compete for a resource that is increasingly erratic and slowly diminishing.

On average, each of us drinks up to one gallon of water every day. But it takes 500 to 1,500 gallons of water to produce one person's daily food, depending on what is eaten. For example, it takes 340 gallons to produce a pound of rice and 1,857 gallons for a pound of beef.

Global water consumption is expected to increase by 40 percent over the next 20 years, driven by an increasing population and a growing demand for food and meat consumption.

Roughly 30 percent of the food produced worldwide is lost or wasted every year. Poor storage and transportation facilities are partly to blame. In developed countries, food is wasted by consumers unaware of the resources needed to produce it. Diets with excessive food intake are also a source of waste and a cause of growing health costs.

As we approach another hot South Florida summer, consider these super-saver water tips:

  • Limit your food waste.
  • Eat less red meat.
  • Choose native plants -- my buttonwoods provide shade, are never watered and are adapted to the climate.
  • Fix leaking toilets -- you could be wasting up to 200 gallons a day.
  • Harvest the rain; install a rain barrel. My 55-gallon barrel fills up in 50 minutes of rain.
  • Run fewer, fuller loads in the washing machine.
  • Stop using plastic bottled water -- it takes three times the water to produce.
  • Support your local Earth Day events this month.
  • Shirley Gun is a member of the Keyswide nonprofit Green Living & Energy Education. She writes about green living and the four R's -- reducing, reusing, recycling and rot (composting). She can be reached at