Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. The infamous catchphrase has become the slogan of many environmentally-focused campaigns. It’s taught us to recycle packaging, reduce single-use plastic and reuse old clothing. Yet, when it comes to one of the world’s most precious resources, ‘how can we reduce, reuse, recycle, or simply put, save water?’ Answering this question and more about how climate change is impacting our water resources, Steve Creech, President of the Wyland Foundation, spoke with The Wellness Feed about his organization and water conservation.
As scorching temperatures and droughts strain water supplies worldwide, water quality and future shortages remain one of the nation’s top priorities. Organizations like Wyland Foundation are combating water scarcity through campaigns and educational and conservation programs that focus on how we can save water. In April, the nonprofit launched the 12th annual Wyland National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation. Over 40 states participated, and 420,000 individuals pledged to take action to conserve over 1.8 billion gallons of water. Cities with the highest number of participants included Laguna Beach, California, and North Port, Florida. Their pledges extend beyond simply conserving water. They will also reduce landfill waste by 49 million pounds and CO2 emissions by 6.6 billion pounds. Considering that even a small part of the pollution can create such a massive impact, it’s interesting to think about what would happen if we all focused on similar water-saving commitments. As Steve says, “People can be agents of change.”
What impacts will climate change have on our water resources?
Climate change is having an unprecedented impact on all water sources, from severe droughts and floods to other problems that most people don’t think about like runaway algae growth in places like Florida and the Great Lakes that can wreak havoc on the quality of drinking water. More precipitation falling as rain rather than snow will greatly impact our ability to store water, making us more reliant on building new and more costly infrastructure. Rising sea levels can penetrate freshwater systems and further diminish source water quality.
What does ‘water wise’ mean? What are everyday ways that citizens can be ‘water wise’?
Water wise is a fundamental term by which we ask people to understand how inextricably our behaviors are linked to water availability. And not just for us, for everything and everyone else. We generally start introducing ways to be water-wise very simply with basic actions:
- Take shorter showers
- Turn off the tap when you walk away
- Fix leaks
- Landscape with native plants
- Dispose of household hazardous water properly
- Reduce consumption of animal proteins
As you go through this process, a person begins to expand their understanding of how water affects our lives and how the things we do as individuals on a daily basis affect its availability.
How does water conservation reduce CO2 emissions?
Moving water takes tremendous amounts of energy. In California, we use about 20% of the state’s energy just to move, heat, and clean water. Wasting less water saves a lot of energy, the production of which, in the case of non-renewables, releases CO2.
What is the positive environmental impact of using less water?
Our programs are meant to increase awareness, change thinking, and ideally lead to actions that are much more sustainable. Looking at sustainability through the lens of water use and water quality is an excellent way for people to understand the broader impacts of their actions.
What recommendations do you have for people who want to pressure their policymakers to make better environmental bills?
The Wyland Foundation is a community service organization. We don’t lobby, BUT we certainly do have opinions. The bottom line is policymakers have to be willing to compromise and prioritize the health of the environment and their constituents over their political agendas. I think my answer earlier about the impact of climate change on water resources should be incentive enough. But it will require a lot of solutions that one side or the other will not like: regulatory approaches and market-based incentives. It will be costly. But it’s either pay now or pay a lot more later.
How can a person get involved with protecting their waterways? Cleanups? Petitions? Etc.?
Well, I have to be an advocate for our organization on this one. We have a digital tool that we collaborated on with a group called EcoChallenge. It’s called My Volunteer Water Project and provides a range of home-based, individualized, and community-based actions and projects that people can do to make a difference. And, yes, great groups like WaterKeeper Alliance and others do a good job of keeping these conservation issues front and center with our elected leaders.
The Wyland Foundation strongly believes that people need to understand why protecting our environment is important. And how people can be agents of change. But getting to that point takes time. Wyland, our founder, often shares a quote from Dr. Sylvia Earle about the critical nature of how what we do in the next ten years will affect the next 10,000. It that’s not a call to action, I don’t know what is.
“Species have been disappearing from ocean ecosystems and this trend has recently been accelerating…. If the long-term trend continues, all fish and seafood species are projected to collapse within my lifetime—by 2048.” But, he continued, “The good news is that it is not too late to turn things around.” Sylvia A. Earle, The World Is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean’s Are One