Somehow, I heard it over the Super Bowl.
The spigot connecting the hot water to our new washer was spraying water all over the laundry room. A puddle quickly turned into a flood. We used every towel, sheet and bath robe we owned to try to sop up the deluge, but despite our efforts, water soon began to leak downstairs.
In some (very) small way, the leak might have been a blessing: I was too busy mopping up a puddle and googling 24-hour plumbers to see the infamous one-yard-line play call that cost the Seahawks their national title.
At any rate, we spent most of the next 48 hours without any running water, and it took me a frustratingly long time to get a contractor to fix our problem. (“Yes,” I informed way too many people, “no running water with a toddler in the house does constitute a plumbing emergency.”)
We’re back online now, so to speak. The temporary inability to wash dishes, hands, clothes and a toddler who loves to finger paint made me even more grateful for what we too often take for granted: clean, potable, accessible and affordable water.
Sunday was World Water Day, a global event that marks the importance—and scarcity—of clean and accessible water for every human, community and ecosystem. According to the United Nations, “748 million people do not have access to an improved source of drinking water and 2.5 billion do not use an improved sanitation facility.” Unfortunately, untreated water and the lack of hygienic toileting are a major source of disease.
While I was researching witches’ camps in Northern Ghana (definitely a story for another time), I stayed in a house with very basic plumbing. If you wanted to cook, wash your hands, take a shower or flush the toilet, you had to go outside, pump water into big buckets and try not to spill too much as you lugged them back inside. The care I took with not wasting water put my drought awareness days in California to shame.
Much worse off were the women living in a camp down the road. They had to walk almost a mile to a pond to collect their (somewhat muddy, definitely host to illness) water—then balance the canisters on their head as they carefully walked home. And that was when there actually was water: When I visited, the pond was only ankle-deep and in danger of drying up completely.
As a result, many of the women I came to know were sick. A handful were taking anti-diarrhea medications, and many more surely had ailments caused by water-borne illness. A few women were too sick or frail to fetch their own water and so relied on the other women to bring them a spare bucket of the precious resource.
The experiences of these women—and countless others like them—starkly contrasts the inconvenience we felt from a busted water spigot. Their plight is one reason I have designated charity: water in my Amazon Smile account, which donates a (teensy tiny) slice of every purchase I make to developing water access projects in developing countries.
Also importantly, we exercise water-saving techniques in our home. We let yellow mellow, fill toilet cisterns with bottles to reduce the amount of water in each flush, use eco settings when we wash clothes and installed low-flow showerheads. Certainly there’s more we could do (and the historic drought in neighboring California is a good reason to further reform our use), and World Water Day is a good reminder of our need to appreciate this life-giving resource.
What do you do to conserve water?