The Big Thirst in a Water World

TheBigThirst The book was released yesterday, although I think I have seen it in a store before the release date. I knew Charles Fishman would write this book. His excellent Fast Company message in a bottle was well received a couple of years back. 

As he writes in response to a comment to his ChangeThis manifesto: We pay too little for water.

What we pay doesn't cover the cost of the water — of finding it and acquiring it in the first place, of treating it and delivering it, of disposing of it. And we don't pay the cost of protecting the environment that provides the water in the first place.

There might be more role for private companies in some elements of water — but the most important thing is to understand the real cost of water, and to realize that "free" water isn't free — for those who live in the U.S., or for the poorest people who have to walk to get their water.

What's interesting to me is that this comment easily applies to many things of value in life. True, there are organizations and ads that talk about protecting your loved ones. Yet you're on your own when it comes to protecting your vision and dreams, for example.

Fishman tells us that the only way to understand and appreciate the importance of water to our lives is to look at the data flow. Some choice data points:

  • The U.S. uses more water in a day than it uses oil in a year.
  • 49% of U.S. water use is devoted to generating electricity
  • the amount of water required to raise and process food for the average American's 2,000-calorie daily diet is 528 gallons
  • The Coca-Cola Company needs 333 ounces of water to generate $1 of revenue

We had a fire in the neighborhood the other night, about 1.5 miles up the street. You have probably seen a fire hydrant in use, spraying water with a high degree of pressure, what is necessary to fill the hoses that will extinguish a fire.

This particular one was shut off too quickly after use. The pressure reversed back into the underground pipes resulting in a big burst just a couple of houses away. Imagine the fright for those homeowners to have an explosion-like sound and see the ground raise in the wee hours of the morning.

The whole neighborhood was without water for several hours as the water company got to work to fix the pipes and restore the service. In those cases, they need to replace them at the joints, so it could be several feet of pipe, with all the digging and sealing implications.

I had a good reminder of my water use and how much I rely on this precious commodity. Which is quite the oxymoron, when you think about it. We don't appreciate what we have and yet miss it the moment it's gone. It doesn't seem right to call it commodity, does it?

For business, water management is fast becoming a key strategic tool. Companies are starting to gather the kind of information that lets them measure not just their water use and their water costs but also their water efficiency, their water productivity, how much work they get from a gallon of water, how much revenue, how much profit. It's a sea of dollars.

Water was also the focus of last year's Blog Action Day and here are another ten facts about water. Water is the currency of our bodies and the life-line of our entire planet. Yet we squander it.

In The Big Thirst (Amazon affiliate link), Fishman helps us understand how we use water, where the costs are and think about reducing them. Through research and case studies, he encourages us to see where the value is that we can learn to preserve it. Having read his previous book, and met Fishman on several occasions, I can attest to the quality of his thinking and integrity of his work.

And since that's all we seem to talk about anymore these days — what's the ROI of fresh, potable water? You tell me.

Listen to his live interview with Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air.

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