HALI MCKINLEY LESTER
Photography by Keyon Aghajan
We all know not to leave for classes without an umbrella or rain coat during the first month of school. If you do, you are sure to get soaked in the afternoon downpour. That’s just “Rainesville.” Because of this abundance of rain, many students are unaware of a growing threat of waterscarcity. There is a reason UF implores students to take five minute showers — they are trying to encourage students to be more conscious of water sustainability.
The Oxford Dictionary defines sustainable as “able to be maintained at a certain rate or level; conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources.” It is important to remember that we must be sustainable in our consumption of water. In Florida, we see water surrounding us in the springs, rivers, lakes, and oceans. Yet, this illusion of water abundance belies the problem of global water scarcity. 1.2 billion people in the world do not have access to clean drinking water, and in many developing countries, girls drop out of school when they hit puberty because they do not have access to water for sanitation. Additionally, people arefighting over the rights to water, spending millions of dollars in legal struggles for water control, when they could use that money for restoration projects that would help replenish the clean water supply.
In Florida, most of our water comes from underground aquifers, although these water sources are quickly drying up. We are surrounded by vast oceans, so many people to hope to turn to these sources for water. However, large-scale desalination plants actually require two gallons of water to desalinate one gallon of water, so they are largely unsustainable as well.
Part of the water scarcity problem stems from the misconception that tap water is not safe to drink. In reality, most tap water has less chemicals than bottled water. Additionally, bottled water is incredibly unsustainable. The energy required to manufacture the plastic bottles and transport bottled water to retailers throughout the country is detrimental to the environment. All of the plastic from these bottles then either ends up in landfills, or gets recycled. Recycling plastic bottles may make people think they are reducing the environmental impact of plastic water bottles, but recycling requires a great deal of energy, which in turn contributes to environmental waste. If you are worried about the cleanliness of the tap water, simply purchase a water filter. In the long run, it will save a lot of money and reduce environmental impact.
Some gators lead this trend! “I fill up my water bottle at water fountains because I think they taste better than water from the sinks, but I’m not worried that the water isn’t clean or safe to drink,” said sophomore Becca Fleeman, an applied physiology and kinesiology major.
Although the water scarcity problem can seem terrifying, we are not without hope. Cynthia Barnett teaches environmental journalism at UF and has written several books about the water shortage. She hopes to appeal to “the caring middle,” people who would change their water usage if they were aware of the problem.
Therefore, she hopes to educate the population about ways to conserve water.
Australia serves as an excellent example. Several years ago, they faced an alarming rate of water consumption, and feared they would soon run out of water. As a result, they changed their practices to keep as much water in nature as possible. They initiated efforts to restore wetlands and protect forests, and they encouraged citizens to reduce their water usage. They also employed other practices such as using waterless toilets and rain barrels, and now Australians live in a way that water will be sustainable for many years to come.
Barnett encourages people to live with a water ethic, making sure the way we live with water today doesn’t jeopardize fresh, clean water for our children, business, and ecosystems tomorrow. Changing the water ethic cannot come simply from governmental regulation. As citizens, we must work to create a more sustainable society and reduce our unnecessarily excessive water usage. Water is not an infinite resource, nor is it a guarantee, so we must conserve water.