Every Drop Counts: Reframing our relationship with water

February 16, 2018

Water is a precious resource, and every drop counts.

In developed countries, our dependency on water is often overlooked as we go about our daily lives without thinking about our usage every time we take a sip of water, prepare a meal, or wash our hands. However, that’s not the case in many developing countries. In a place where the search for clean, safe water is a daily battle, the importance of water is at the forefront of many people’s minds.

California recently faced one of its most historic droughts on record. During this time, water conservation expanded beyond the minds of environmentalists and into the everyday habits of residents throughout California. On May 10, 2016, the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) announced the end of our drought emergency. Putting an end to the four-year drought required large efforts in water conservation- efforts that need to continue in order to ensure the protection of our natural resources for the future.

Water conservation goes beyond limiting our shower times and turning off the faucet while brushing our teeth- the depth of mindfulness necessary extends into the realm of virtual water. Virtual water describes the amount of water used in the production of a certain product or service. For most people, virtual water usage is the most apparent in the production of food. Agriculture is a huge component of California’s economy and water use, and some of the products that use the most water include almonds, alfalfa (grown as feed for cattle and dairy cows,) and pasture for grazing livestock. Food such as burgers, beef, milk, and cheese require gallons of water that most people don’t think about on an everyday basis. Reducing one’s water footprint requires changes in consumption that reflect efforts to conserve our most precious resources. Even small efforts to eat plant-based foods more often can make a cumulative impact.

At UC Berkeley, dedicated students and staff members are working hard on research projects connected to the Berkeley Water Center. For example, Professor Kara Nelson and Andrea Silverman have researched the use of sunlight to design better natural wastewater treatment systems. The project focuses on disinfection goals, combining the sustainability of natural sunlight with public health concerns. Delving into the connections between cost, energy, and water, research on decentralized water reuse systems demonstrates their sustainable and resilient infrastructure. Olga Kavvada, Arpad Horvath, Jenn Stokes, and Kara Nelson all contributed to this project, aiming to improve our conventional infrastructure by reducing the economic and environmental pressures. Along with advancements in research such as these, personal efforts to improve water protection and conservation can make a lasting difference on the environment.

The UC Berkeley campus uses 605 million gallons of water each year. In the last 10 years, we have reduced the amount of water use per person by over 20%. The UC Berkeley goal is to reduce potable water use to 10% below 2008 levels by 2020, and so far, we are on track. Let’s continue to include more sustainable practices into our daily lives and reframe our relationship with water. After all, every drop counts.


Image sources

  • “A less dry California” - Los Angeles Times

  • “Water Footprint” - Virtual Water