In a recent conversation with my sister about water usage in the US, I said ” We need to realize that taking an extra 5 minutes in the shower means that someone else may not have water.” She, quite rightly, attacked my simplification of science (it’s not as simple as that, it’s a complicated interaction of the water cycle, climate change, and water consumption, and a lot of time to get around the world), and I quickly amended my statement.

Until I saw this article. Reserachers in California have proposed building a pipeline from the Columbia River in Washington to supply people with water in Northern California.  The project was only presented as a feasibility study, not as an actual proposal (yet).

The United States already imports some of its water from Canada, as well as all the water in bottled water that is imported into this country.  California already imports much of its water from the Colorado River — diverted to provide the growing city of Los Angeles with enough water for green lawns. Because of this, and other diversions of the sources of the Colorado River, the river is depleted and runs the risk of running dry in the coming years.  California is one of the biggest consumers of water (because they are the biggest producer of energy — power plants need water to run) in the US and the majority of that water goes toward irrigation.

These are legitimate reasons for needing water (except the green lawns. It’s near a desert. Your lawn doesn’t need to be green!).  The solution proposed to deal with the higher consumption is not legitimate.  As the article points out, there are others ways to manage the problem of over-consumption — like reducing consumption.  Switching to a water-wise irrigation system like drip-irrigation could reduce the amount of water necessary for irrigation.  Requiring that power plants change their cooling systems to systems which require much less water would also help the problem.

According to Freshwater Society, 43 countries are already under water stress, with that number on the rise.   While the US is not one of them, we are a nation that is contributing to water stress, especially if we continue to turn to importing water as the solution to balancing our consumption of water with the speed of natural replenishment.  Instead of trying to invent our way out of this one, we need to take a closer look at our personal environmental habits.  If we keep turning to importing, that extra five minutes in the shower really will mean that someone else in the world doesn’t get enough water for the day.