Best-selling author Thomas Kostigen shares simple, surprising tips to reduce your “water footprint.” (Hint: Turn out the lights… and don’t buy that extra pair of jeans!)
By KC Baker of Tonic.com as published March 2010.
It’s time for all of us to go on a water diet.
Long leisurely showers, running the water while brushing your teeth, even buying that extra pair of jeans you don’t really need – all of those seemingly small actions are dramatically decreasing the world’s water supply, says New York Times bestselling author Thomas Kostigen. And he should know: The author just released The Green Blue Book: The Simple Water-Savings Guide To Everything in Your Life, the most comprehensive book ever written about the world’s most precious resource.
“Right now, five million people die every year because of a lack of fresh water,” says Kostigen, whose latest book arrived just in time for today’s World Water Day, a United Nations’ initiative aimed at bringing attention to the planet’s escalating water crisis. “It’s not that we don’t have enough water. It’s that we’re not managing it correctly.”
Now, more than ever, we need to look at how much water we use – and waste – and do something about it before it’s too late, he says. “There’s a big crisis hitting us right here, right now, and that’s water,” says Kostigen – who also wrote the bestselling books You Are Here and The Green Book.
Think the water crisis is a third world problem? Think again.
The water crisis has already hit the United States in serious ways, Kostigen says: “Thirty six states in the next five years will experience some kind of drought. Texas, which is the second biggest agricultural state in the union, is now the driest region in the nation. The aquifer in the Great Plains is drying up, which means that farmers don’t have enough water for their crops. Cattle ranchers don’t have enough water for their cattle. There are wildfires in California, where we are rationing water. Arizona has run out of its water and has been forced to import it. A few years ago, Georgia almost ran out of water. A lot of it has to do with the shift in climate and our profligate use of water.”
Through his travels throughout the world and to the planet’s most environmentally vulnerable spots, he found that people in the US use more water than anywhere else. “In third world countries, where resources are scarce, they use five gallons of water a day for drinking, bathing, eating and for health reasons,” he says. “We use five gallons of water with each flush of the toilet.”
People in the US need about 13 gallons of water a day to drink, bathe and other things. “But we use almost 150 gallons a day per person,” he says. “There is a major disconnect between what we need and what we use. When you put that into that perspective, you start to think about what we can do to conserve water in our water diet.”
One way we waste water without even thinking about it is by making more coffee than we drink, he says. “Think about the water you leave in the bottom of the pot each day. That one cup of cold coffee adds up to two gallons of water per person for 1.1 billion people who don’t have access to fresh water around the world. If everyone would make the amount of coffee they need, that would save a huge amount of water.”
Big savings are also possible simply by ordering a salad once a week rather than a burger when you eat out. Beef uses 1,581 gallons of water per pound to process – more than any other kind of meat, Kostigen says. “One way to cut down on our water usage is by swapping things out. It doesn’t have to be an all-sum game. Swap out a hamburger for a veggie burger just once and save about 600 gallons of water. Ordering a salad saves about 750 gallons of water,” he explains.
Besides the water we use each day for cooking, bathing and washing dishes and clothes, we also need to consider the concept of “virtual water” – the amount of H2O it takes to make and grow food, clothes, household items and other things you own.
“It takes nearly 3,000 gallons of water to make a new pair of jeans,” he says. “With 450 million pairs sold annually in the United States, that comes to nearly 1.4 trillion gallons of water, which is equal to half of California’s entire yearly urban water demand.”
In America, we put “strange things in strange places,” he adds. “Like palm trees in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. We put species where they don’t belong in excess amounts, which leads to overwatering.”
Overwatering with water we simply don’t have to waste.
The solution? “We need to make smarter choices,” he says.
To reduce your own water footprint, try the following:
Turn off the lights: “We use 50 percent of our water supply in the United States to create energy,” he says. “Turning off the lights saves even more water than turning off the tap in your home.”
Buy local : “Buy apples and vegetables from local farmers markets,” he says. “This saves money in the transport of food from other areas.”
Put your water into your own bottles: “This is a big one,” he says. “It takes three liters of water to make the bottle for one liter of water.”
Water lawns and gardens less: “Seventy percent of all residential water goes for our lawns,” he says. “We over water our plants, lawns and gardens by about 50 percent on average.”
Buy what you need – especially when it comes to food: “Agriculture is the number one consumer of freshwater in the world, accounting for about 70 percent of its use,” he says. We waste 40 percent of the food we produce in the US and along with it, 25 percent of the total U.S. water supply it took to grow it.”
Go to the car wash: “Car washes use water more efficiently than doing it yourself with a hose,” he says. “And many car washes use recycled water.”
Turn off the tap when you are brushing your teeth.
None of it’s particularly difficult. Connecticut resident Michelle Kingsbury tells Tonic she has been practicing water conservation for years now – in small ways. “When I make coffee, I measure out the amount of water I need in a mug and put that amount of water in the coffee maker,” says the mother of three. “I leave buckets outside in the yard to collect water when it rains and water my garden with that. These are easy things to do that end up saving a lot of water.”
Kostigen hopes that his latest book, which is easy to read and even funny in parts, along with World Water Day and the April 18 Live Earth Run For Water event will help make people realize just how important it is to save water. “We need to decrease our water footprint,” he says. “Not just the water we see, but the water we don’t see – and make better choices, which will save millions of gallons of water.”
The beautiful thing about that? “It’s easy to do,” he says, “and everyone can do it.”