Population increase, climate change, and unsustainable water usage practices are all putting unprecedented pressure on the global water supply. Over the past 40 years, global water use has tripled and doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. By 2050, there will be 10 billion people in the world, which means an increased demand for food, and demand for water from agriculture alone is expected to increase by almost 20%. We have to be proactive about reducing our water consumption and get serious about solutions to mitigate potential future global water shortages.
Take, for example, the case of California, which produces about a third of the vegetables and two-thirds of the fruits and nuts consumed in the US. Between 2011 and 2014, California experienced record low levels of rainfall, leading to widespread drought, and farmers supplemented their crops with water from underground reserves. However, their withdrawal was largely unregulated and unsustainable: California withdrew 9.5 cubic miles of groundwater, around 7.5 times the amount of water contained in the state’s largest reservoir. Check out this article for more on the California drought and this one for information on California water use in general). To make matters worse, groundwater depletion (often driven by unsustainable agricultural practices) is happening globally: according to NASA, almost a third of the world’s 37 largest aquifers are being diminished much faster than they can be refilled, with eight receiving almost no natural replenishment.
While a large part of the solution must come from more sustainable agricultural practices (like hydroponic farming), there are steps we can all take to reduce water consumption. California succeeded in slashing water use by 25% from 2013 to 2015 through a series of mandatory and voluntary measures, including reducing the allowable flow-rate of water from household fixtures and encouraging people to buy water-saving appliances and install water meters to track total consumption. California’s commitment to water conservation was born out of necessity, but in an increasingly globalized world, we can all take a lesson from it.
Here are a few easy ways to reduce water use in your home:
- Buy local: Buying local reduces your carbon footprint and avoids water costs embedded in transporting food (one gallon of gasoline uses between 1 and 2.5 gallons of water in refinement). Bowery’s local indoor farms grow with 95% less water than conventional or organic farms and don’t require to wash your greens (because they are grown without any pesticides). That’s two water saving strategies for the price of one.
- Leave no leftovers behind: Minimizing food waste helps to conserve water, since when food goes to waste, so does the water that goes into growing and processing that food. If you need to dispose of table scraps or spoiled food, try composting as a more sustainable alternative to using your garbage disposal, which needs water to run. Here are some simple home composting guidelines.
- Take a load off: It can be tempting to turn on your dishwasher at the end of the night — but make sure it’s full first. Automatic dishwashers and washing machines should be fully loaded for maximum water efficiency, and most dishwashers no longer require pre-rinsing (talk about a win-win).
- Try meatless Monday: Meat production uses between 8 and 10 times more water that grain production, according to the World Water Assessment Program. Swapping in other proteins for some meals such as tofu, tempeh, and seitan or even lentils, beans, or chickpeas can provide tasty energy-packed meat alternatives. If you’re still looking for your meat fix, try plant based products that taste like the real thing such as the Impossible Burger or Beyond Meat products.
- Rinse and reuse: Wash your fruits and veggies in a bowl and then use that excess water to nourish your plants instead of dumping it down the drain. Not only do you reuse the water, but it’s a great reminder to tend to your plants.