By Claire Podoll, Sir Francis Drake High School, MMWD 2019 Water Scholar
It was Tuesday evening and I had just gotten home after a long day of school and practice. As I stepped through the door, my stomach tightened as an unmistakable sound reached my ears. Anxiously, I rushed to the kitchen where I found a steady stream of water pouring from the sink and pointlessly slipping down the drain. My hand flew to the knob only to realize the true cause of this waste: the sink was broken. In recent years I have learned to be acutely aware of the value of water, and have been trained by that awareness to do everything I can to reduce waste.
Growing up in Marin County, clean water is often treated as a fundamental right instead of a privilege. In an affluent community, many households are able to pay for as much water as they could possibly use. Massive amounts of water are wasted each day and the results are thought of as inconsequential. This culture of carelessness is convenient and addicting. However, as I have come to understand the incalculable value of water, I have learned to treat this resource like it actually is: scarce, precious and declining.
Rushing down from the peak of Mt. Tam or pouring over rolling hills, rainwater collects into small streams. Slowly the water converges into creeks which fill up reservoirs, ponds and rivers. There are seven reservoirs across Marin County that supply water to the surrounding community; and yet seven reservoirs have never been enough. According to the MMWD website, 25% of Marin County's water is taken from the Russian River in Sonoma County. In a state plagued by chronic drought, water is always running short, a problem amplified by the massive water needs of the agricultural communities across California and the needs of our native ecosystems. Not only does importing water use unnecessarily large amounts of energy and fossil fuels, it also is taking a valuable resource away from other communities and ecosystems who also need it to sustain their life.
When someone in our country turns on their sink, shower, bath or hose, clean and processed water immediately flows. This access is so convenient that many people never understand the energy, chemical, and infrastructure-intensive process used to purify our water. Just to treat water, it takes 5,875 kWh per million gallons, according to the administration from Earth Consultants. Additionally, the Marin Climate Action Plan states that water conveyance and treatment contribute 1.2% of carbon emission in Marin County despite MMWD using Marin Clean Energy. Once all of these additional resources are taken into account, the already valuable resource of water becomes even more precious. When we waste water, we are not only wasting that precious and life-sustaining liquid, but also energy, chemicals and individuals' valuable time. Additionally, once water is used it must be treated again before it can be sent back into the ocean and rivers, adding to the amount of resources wasted when water isn't valued.
In other cultures around the world, water is prized because individuals are connected to the process of attaining it. However, the disconnect that is derived from the convenience of having unlimited clean water leads to destructive habits. People with this kind of access take hour-long showers. They leave the water running while they brush their teeth or for the 30 minutes that they are washing dishes. They leave their faucets partly on and don't bother to notice for hours, while remaining completely oblivious to the error of their ways.
Over time, I have taught my family how to run our household using a minimal amount of water. This has involved changes to our habits, the way we view resources, and the infrastructure in our home. Whenever I wash dishes, I fill two small bins with warm water which I use to clean each and every dish. This results in the sink running for seconds instead of running constantly though the whole process. As appliances in my home have broken or come to a point where they need to be fixed, I have adamantly encouraged my family to replace them with low water use counterparts like low flow toilets and efficient washing machines. Additionally, we are very conscious about how much laundry we do and only run loads that are completely filled with dirty clothes. Making all of these habitual changes has shaped the way that I think about water. I am always appalled when I witness it being wasted, a feeling that forces me into immediate action. At my high school where I run our school's organic garden, I have implemented water saving strategies as well. When it rains we save water in buckets and tanks to be used on dryer days, which prevents us from needing to frequently use a hose. Additionally, I designed a small sink for our garden's raw food kitchen which recycles all of its water back into the garden beds.
If every household in Marin could take simple steps to conserve, our watershed could cut its water use in half. This would save resources and limit the need for us to flood some ecosystems and take water from others. The Mt. Tamalpais watershed provides plenty of water to allow our community's water needs to be self sustaining, we just need as a community to take initiative and learn to value our water.
Claire Podoll is a recent graduate of Sir Francis Drake High School living in San Geronimo. Claire will be studying environmental studies and politics at Whitman College. Throughout her time in high school, Claire participated in sports and helped to run her school's environmental club and organic garden. She enjoys spending time outside going on hikes with her friends and family.