Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ditch the lawn and World Water Usage

As drought continues to grip the nation, TreeHugger recently posted an article about replacing our lawns with gardens. It also springs from a discussion I had with one of the rangers here in Cuyahoga Valley National Park last week. We waste so much time, money, and (most importantly) water to keep our grass looking green and healthy...but is there a true benefit to it? What if instead of vast expanses of grass we planted flower gardens, trees, and vegetable gardens. These plants can survive off of the rainfall or with minimal amounts of watering and, as a more important factor, can supply food and shade to you and your family. I believe we should only be allowed to plant native plants in our lawns. If a plant is native, it is perfectly suited for the amount of precipitation we get in our area...except the majority of U.S. lawns are covered by Kentucky Blue Grass. Better yet, why not plant xeric lawns, which require little to no water?

I was amazed while walking in Akron last night to see medians on some of the streets where people have been watering their flower gardens. They look great, yes, but what amazed me those most was a very noticeable line between bright green grass where it had been watered and the brown grass which is victim to the drought. Is our love of aesthetic beauty really more than our need to conserve water. In books such as Sandra Postel's "Last Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity," arguments are made that the next great war will be fought over water rights. I'm not surprised, nor do I disagree.
Even in our own nation, we have these problems. During 2008, the southern United States was gripped by another drought and the mayor of Atlanta began requesting that water be diverted from the Great Lakes to supply his cities drinking water (Read Article Here). While I'm sure this water would supply drinking water, how much of it would go to supply water to golf courses, lawns, and other non-essential resources? Additionally, around the world, nations are witness a water crisis. The waters of the great Colorado River no longer reach the mouth in its historic range. Due to city water supplies, agriculture, and more the mouth of the Colorado River now looks like this:

Spending time in Haiti over the past couple of years, I saw the need for clean, safe drinking water. People are bathing, washing clothes, swimming, urinating, deficating, and drinking out of the same water supply. I was there for the start of the Cholera Outbreak in 2010 and watched as people frantically tried to educate others on clean, safe practices...yet water was stilled pulled from the same polluted sources. The following is a pictur of one of my trips, on the northern coast of Haiti. Notice the shacks and people using the beach...the water was dirty. It was used for every purpose with no designation of where to go bathroom, where to drink from, and where to cook at.

(Orchard Hill Church, 2011)

The choices we make concerning water use affect everyone around the world. The United States is divided into 2 main watersheds. All water either enters the Pacific Ocean or the Atlantic, with the Continental Divide being this division point. In the Atlantic Ocean watershed, I (here in northeastern Ohio) live in the Great Lakes watershed, more specifically the Lake Erie Watershed, more specifically the Cuyahoga River Watershed, more specifically the Furnace Run Watershed. Need I go on? Everytime I flush a toilet or spill a cup of coffee (which I do more than you think), it ends up in the Atlantic Ocean. Take a look at the following picture and then lets look at my coffees impact:

So my little bit of spilled coffee flows into the Atlantic Ocean, hits the Gulf Stream, and flows either towards England or veers south near the western shore of Africa and...back around to Haiti. Yes, my coffee is an extreme example, but what about spilled oil from our cars, pesticides we use on our lawns, trash you throw out of your cars onto the road. We all live upstream from somewhere....but we also live downstream from somewhere else.

Here are just a few tips for conserving water:
  • Shorten your shower to 5 minutes. You're not getting any cleaner after that point
  • Do not water your lawn. Plant water-conservative species
  • Use low-flow water features in your house
  • Only wash clothes when you have a full load
  • Turn off the water when you are brushing your teeth, washing your body, or shampooing your hair
Any simple Google search will return thousands of results, such as 100 Ways to Conserve Water. Be smart. Think what is downstream.

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