KATHY LUTHER: Give thanks for water, conserve it carefully

2012-11-22T00:00:00Z KATHY LUTHER: Give thanks for water, conserve it carefullyBy Kathy Luther nwitimes.com
November 22, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Since this is a Thanksgiving column, you are either reading this column with the delicious aroma of turkey in the oven, or you are dozing over your newspaper in a pleasant turkey tryptophan-induced daze. While you are thinking of all the things you are thankful for -- whether family, friends, feasts or football -- I’m hoping this column will encourage you to be thankful for clean water throughout the holiday.

First, there is direct use of water. Water used for public water supply in Northwest Indiana in 2009 was 34 billion gallons. The average daily use per person across our three counties was 117 gallons per day. This is about 19 gallons more than the national average.

Perhaps we are using more water than the average American because we take the convenience of clean water from the tap for granted.

Did you know that worldwide 780 million people, or 2 out of 10, lack access to safe drinking water? Women and girls from these families spend an estimated 152 million hours a day collecting water for survival.

Maybe saving a few gallons here won’t directly help those folks, but certainly we can do better at caring for what we have. As some anecdotal stories of dry wells during the drought this summer showed, we can have water shortages even here.

Some tips for reducing water use this Thanksgiving Day:

  • Don’t let the water run while rinsing dishes.
  • Try not to use running water for thawing frozen food.
  • Chill a pitcher of water in the fridge instead of running the tap every time someone needs a drink.
  • Collect the water you use to clean produce and use it to water the houseplants.
  • Let pots and pans soak instead of running the water while you scrub them.

Besides the water you can see, feel, and taste in your home, water use is embedded in the food we eat and products we buy. A typical American Thanksgiving dinner takes a lot of water to produce. There is a wide variety of information to figure this out. Through a variety of sources and guesstimating I came up with the following:

  • 20-pound turkey, 5,740 gallons.
  • 3 pounds of potatoes, 90 gallons.
  • 1 dozen rolls, 132 gallons.
  • 1 pound bread for stuffing, 154 gallons.
  • 1 pound butter, 2,044 gallons.
  • ½ gallon of milk, 424 gallons.
  • 2 pound green salad, 62 gallons.
  • 1 pumpkin pie, 1,140 gallons.
  • 1 bottle of wine, 248 gallons.
  • 1 pot coffee, 444 gallons.
  • 2-liter soda bottle, 132 gallons.

Based on those numbers, more than 9,500 gallons of water go into our holiday feast before we even start washing the dishes. (Waterfootprint.org has a calculator to figure out the water consumption associated with various aspects of your lifestyle).

For the football crowd, throw in another 20 gallons per bottle of beer consumed during the game.

Regarding those dishes, hand washing is estimated to take 20 gallons of water for a typical meal, whereas a good Energy Star dishwasher should use only about four gallons. Maybe it is time to carefully try out the dishwasher on your good china.

There are several ways to reduce the amount of water embedded in the food you buy. Consuming less-water-intensive products means eating less processed food, which uses water in manufacturing and in packaging. It also means eating less meat and more vegetables.

You can see from the Turkey Day analysis above that most of our water use came from the bird and the butter. For example, it takes 10 times more water to make a pound of beef than a pound of wheat. Fortunately, these are all things that will also help us healthier, so that is a win-win all around.

A third tip for reducing water waste is to reduce food waste. So, whether you look forward to days of turkey hash, turkey sandwiches and turkey noodle soup with pleasure or with dread, take comfort in the fact that you are conserving water by making sure it is all being put to good use!

While you are being thankful for the water in your life, remember to use water wisely. It doesn't grow on trees! Let’s make it clean!

Kathy Luther is director of environmental management for the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.

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