Green Junction: The Water Crisis by BY JULIE PELLER PH.D

The water crisis in some regions of the western part of the US is being described as historic. The governor of California has declared a drought emergency in 41 of the state’s 58 counties. Some farmers are removing crops that depend on plentiful water, such as almond trees. The rights to fresh water in Oregon are creating severe tensions between farmers and those protecting fisheries. In Nevada, Lake Mead water levels are described as “the lowest since Lake Mead was filled.” The lake reservoir has dropped 140 feet since 2000, and farmers and cities in the Southwest will feel the water shortage.  

To confront the drought, residents will “need to pull together again to save water,” according to those who study and implement water use standards. Californians are encouraged to do all they can to minimize water use: shorter showers, fixing leaks, and other conservation efforts. According to the director of a global water think tank, one of the main problems is groundwater overuse, to the extent that land is sinking. He also explains that it is problematic that the rules for more sustainable groundwater use will not be implemented for a few years. 

Maybe the value of water and other natural resources is not appreciated until it is in dire supply. Others suggest that water has not had a large enough price tag. State officials in California recognize that many people have adapted to a water conservation lifestyle. In 2014, the average Californian used 108 gallons of water per day, compared to 92 gallons in 2020. Interestingly, in certain parts of the state, people are more willing to conserve than in others, some using on average 70 gallons per day vs. those who are not willing to do their part and utilizing 4000 gals/day. Data compiled by the US EPA shows that the average US family uses 300 gallons of water each day, where 20% is for showers, 19% for faucets, 24% for toilets, and 17% for laundry. 

It is still essential for those who are not subject to freshwater shortages to regard water and other natural resources as precious and treat them as such. In the Laudato Si, Pope Francis emphasizes that “access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right since it is essential to human survival.” Are there ways you can better respect freshwater? 

Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~6 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental workaul

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