2. Water, Water Everywhere?
It can easily cost 500 to 2,000 gallons of water to produce a typical American meal. According to Rep. Tony Coelho (D., Calif.), agriculture accounts for 80% of all water consumption in America. It takes the use of 408 gallons of water to get one serving of chicken to a dinner able, 12 gallons for one 8-ounce baked potato, 18 gallons for one serving of green beans and 6 gallons for a salad. A dinner roll takes 26 gallons of water, plus 100 gallons for the pat of butter on it. That adds up to 570 gallons for one "conventional" meal. A steak alone costs 2,607 gallons of water. On the average, it takes about 1,630,000 gallons of water to feed one American for a year. (Parade Magazine, Sunday newspaper supplement, 3/25/84.)
It must be obvious that water is, indeed, a very precious resource and one that is all too often taken for granted.
Soil water has three forms: hydroscopic, gravitational and capillary. Hydroscopic water is chemically-bound in the soil constituents and unavailable to plants. Gravitational water is water that normally drains out of the pore spaces of the soil after a rain, and if drainage is poor, it is this water that causes the soil to be soggy and unproductive. Excessive drainage, on the other hand, makes capillary water run short sooner, and plants suffer from drought. Plants depend on capillary water for their supply of moisture, so the ability of soil to hold water against the pull of gravity is important. Organic matter and good soil structure add to this supply of water in soils. Plants can't extract the last drop of capillary water from soil since the attraction of soil materials for it is greater than the pull exerted by the plant roots. The point at which these two forces are equal is called the willing coefficient of a soil, that is, the percentage of water in a soil when water loss from transpiration exceeds renewal of the water by capillary means. Medium-textured loams and silt loams (because of their faster rate of movement of moisture from lower depths of the root zone, and the fact that they can bring up moisture from greater depths than either sands or clays) provide the best conditions of available (but not excessive) soil moisture for best plant growth. (Rodale Press)
The following excerpts on water come from The Survival of Civilization, page 22:
As we said in our section on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, plant and animal digestive systems will readily pass water into the plant or animal, so if toxic compounds are in solution in the water, they too will pass readily into the plant/animal.
We have seen that the key to achieving crop growth depends on a delicate balance between minerals available/absorbed, water, climate, and so on. It must be obvious by now that we cannot just "dump chemical fertilizers onto the soil at random and pour lots of water onto it," and expect to match nature's achievements! Irrigation is not the same as natural rainfall (i.e., rain as it should be, not acid rain) in the first place; in the second place, most water is full of chemicals by the time it flows through our taps.
2.1 We Don't Miss the Water Till the Well Runs Dry. . .
We will also talk about drought later in this section and again in our section on climate later on in this lesson. Barry Slogrove (ecologist) says the Southern hemisphere is suffering droughts like never before because of the transfer of cloud cover across the equator to the north—this is visible on satellite photographs. The results are felt in Australia, which has the worst drought in human history, and also in Africa, which has also suffered severe drought. The rain volume may be the same, but the precipitation patterns are different, which means that less moisture actually gets into the soil. (Slogrove also maintains the view that an Ice Age is on the way.)
In 1984, much of Texas suffered under heavy drought and in the Austin area, water use during the spring of 1984 far exceeded previous spring consumption (and exceeded peak use in the summer of 1983). To encourage public awareness of water use, the newspaper published water consumption figures daily. Voluntary water conservation was at first in effect (each day, households whose last number of their street address is the daily given number may water their lawns on that day—this amounts to watering every fifth day only). Mandatory water conservation began after three consecutive days at 150 million gallons usage. In Corpus Christi, Texas, mandatory water rationing to limit lawn watering and car washing began July 1 in this drought-plagued city. The new ordinance, carrying a fine of up to $200 for violators, was to continue indefinitely until the Nueces River watershed was replenished. (Alice, Texas, also instituted mandatory rationing in May.) Corpus Christi had called for voluntary water conservation in May, but officials said that residents didn't heed the request.
The following tips on conserving our precious water supplies were offered by the Austin newspaper, suggestions which can be put into practice by all Americans to save water and to increase consciousness so that water won't be taken for granted and wasted so often.
2.2 The Lawn
Water deeply and infrequently to get a good root structure, which can't be achieved by frequent shallow waterings. Water long enough for water to seep down to the roots. Check soil before watering; if it springs back when you step on the grass, it doesn't need water yet. Water during cool parts of the day, and don't water while the wind blows, because wind increases evaporation. Oscillating sprinklers are among the least efficient because they spray many thin streams of water high in the air. Use sprinklers that make big drops and keep the water close to the ground. Among the better sprinklers are the smaller versions of sprinklers used by golf courses or park operators, which rotate, sending pulses of water in a circular pattern (Rainbird makes these). Try a drip hose in odd-shaped areas. The least evaporation occurs when water is applied directly to the ground with a perforated hose or other drip irrigation method. Don't water the gutter—arrange hoses and sprinklers so the water doesn't run onto concrete. Even in instances where it appears the water is running off a sidewalk onto a lawn, a large part of the water evaporates. If you have an automatic sprinkler system, set the timer to operate between 4 and 6 a.m., when demand on city systems is at its lowest. Don't scalp your lawn. Set your mower to cut no lower than 1 1/2 inches; better still, 2 inches. Taller grass holds moisture better. A rule of thumb is not to cut more than 1/3 of the height of the grass. If planting new sod or grass, prepare the soil with compost so water won't run off (the same idea works in gardens).
Use native trees and shrubs that are hardiest in your area. Put a layer of mulch around trees and plants. Not only does this conserve moisture and keep the soil around plants cooler, but it also adds nutrients if leaves are used, have some weeds for insects and balance (polyculture), but not so many that they are taking too much water away from vegetables.
2.4 Other watering
Don't use a hose as a broom, to "sweep" sidewalks and driveways, etc. Use a rake or broom. Use a bucket or a water can to water hanging plants—using a hose to go from basket to basket wastes more water than makes it to the plants. Cut down on car washing (if nothing else, for the sake of your paint job), and wash with a bucket of soapy water, using the hose only for rinsing. Put a nozzle on your hose.
For almost every outdoor job, you'll save water by using an attachment that lets you turn the water on and off at the end of the hose rather than at the faucet. (Don't forget to turn the faucet off when done.) Wash your car at a commercial car wash, since the high pressure equipment used by most will wash your car in less time and with less water than most people use at home.
Showers usually take no more than 1/2 as much water—sometimes less—than bath tubs. If you don't have a shower, you can still save several gallons of water simply by reducing the water in your tub baths by a few inches.
You can check your use by plugging the drain during a shower and comparing the water level with your normal bath. Also, bathing and shampooing at the same time cuts water use. Take a shorter shower. Most showers use 6 to 10 gallons of water per minute. If you install a low-flow shower head, that can be cut to 2 1/2 to 4 gallons per minute, and the new shower head will pay for itself within a few months.
Use aerators in sinks. Aerators which are made to screw into most standard faucets will cut your water flow. Check faucets for leaks. Even a small drip from a worn washer can waste more than 50 gallons of water a day—steady drips can waste hundreds. When brushing your teeth, turn off the water until you rinse your mouth. (Children can be helped to develop this habit while still young.) When shaving, partially fill the sink to rinse your razor rather than rinsing with running water.
Cut down on the number of flushes. An old-style toilet can use five or more gallons per flush! Frankly, that's a lot of water for a cupful of urine. Newer models use 3 1/2 gallons per flush or less. Cut the water level in the toilet. Fill two one-quart bottles with water and replace the caps. Put them in the tank, to reduce the water used per flush. Don't use bricks for this, because they will crumble and possibly damage the toilet. You can also reduce the level of water with the toilet's own equipment. Many have adjusting screws. In older toilets gently bend the float rod downward to reduce water level. Check for leaks. Add a few drops of food coloring to the tank. If the color appears in the bowl in a few minutes (without flushing), you have a leak. Common sources of leaks are that the water level in the tank is too high or that the flapper ball and other parts are worn. Some plumbing supply stores and many stores that specialize in energy conservation sell inexpensive devices such as plastic water dams which will help reduce the amount of water used in each flush.
2.8 In the kitchen
Don't rinse the dishes with running water. If you have two sinks, fill one with hot rinse water. If you have only one sink, buy a small plastic tub for rinsing or gather washed dishes in a rack and rinse them when done with a spray device or by pouring water over them. Don't rinse vegetables with running water. Rinse them in a partially-filled sink or pan. Cooking with less water, such as by steaming, saves water and retains more vitamins in the food. (Of course, we might note here that not cooking retains even more vitamins!) Those who use garbage disposals are encouraged not to cut the disposal on (with water running all the while) for every little scrap, but to let them accumulate a bit—better still is to compost your scraps, of course. Dishwashers use about 25 gallons of water per load. Not only is this wasteful, but some people don't even fill the dishwasher with dishes each time. Any housewife who had to walk several miles for water and haul it back to the house would definitely think twice about using 25 gallons to wash dishes, that's for sure. Some new dishwashers have cycles that use as little as four gallons of water, but I still wouldn't promote the use of dishwashers. (Again, think of all the dishes and pots and pans you'll save washing on a raw food diet ...)
Use the washing machine for full loads only. Each load requires as much as 35 gallons of water — (some older machines actually use as much as 59 gallons). Try hauling that from a well. If you must wash only a few pieces, do it by hand. If you replace your machine, be sure to buy one with adjustable water levels. If you have a small family, consider a European-style, front-loading machine, which uses far less water than top loaders. If you live in a city, washing clothes, cars, etc., can be done on week-days since the heaviest demand on the water system tends to be on weekends. Check for leaks. In many older homes, the washer isn't located in the most convenient spot, which means that leaks can go undetected for weeks. Use cold water when possible.
2.10 Around the house
Turn down the hot water thermostat. High settings can waste water because you turn on more cold water at the faucet to mix with the hot. Check your buyer's guide or ask the store where you bought the appliance if you don't understand the range of settings on the dial. (If you don't know where the thermostat is, find out before an emergency.)
Evaluate your inside plant-watering schedule—check before watering—many plants die from overwatering as well as underwatering.
Insulate hot water pipes. The less time it takes for hot water to reach the tap, the more water you save. Check for system leaks. Turn off all faucets, then check your water meter. If it continues to run, you've got a leak.
Even if you don't live in an area that is prone to drought, it would be well to adopt as many water-saving habits as possible, because water is wasted needlessly, and is being used faster than nature can replace it in many places. As we said, children can be encouraged to develop a conscious attitude toward natural resources from the very beginning so that their conscientious habits become second nature to them—this is always easier than making the change later on in life. The next time you and your children brush your teeth, imagine that you live in a country where you must go to a distant well and carry your water home. How much water would you use in a day for all your needs? Could you imagine carrying that extra gallon or two that each of your family members lets run down the sink while brushing their teeth? It would then become apparent how wasteful this really is. Nor could you afford to carry the extra few gallons that run down the drain each time you rinse your hands, a glass, or something to eat. These all add up—if you're fond of mental exercise, you may want to calculate your average daily household water use in gallons and multiply by 365 for a year's use. You'll be amazed.
2.11 Odds and Ends
Use dishwashing detergent sparingly. I've lived for months in areas where our dishwashing consisted of rinsing dishes in streams without even using soap at all, and the only available water was, of course, cold water. Since dishes were rinsed right after eating, there was certainly no real food decomposition yet, and we all remained as healthy as ever. Most people seem to think they need "lots of suds", but soap residue is unhealthy—and more suds also mean more water for rinsing. If dishes have been sitting a few days, soaking them first will help, and a pad that is "scratchy" but made not to harm dishes (such as those sold for Teflon surfaces) can be used to get them clean with very little soap.
If children want to play in the sprinkler in the hot summer, put it somewhere where the water can serve a triple purpose: water the grass, entertain the kids, and serve as their shower/bath that day. Many of us in today's society have become so "clean" conscious that we actually shower and bathe too often for our real needs, especially if we "scrub daily with soap". This destroys the skin's natural oils and protective bacteria—while many people believe that their "cleanliness will protect them from germs/illness", it is more the opposite that is true: they'll be hardier if they don't attempt to "sterilize" their bodies. For freshness sake, we may take a quick shower/rinse with a loofa sponge or washcloth. As children, my 2 sisters and I often took our baths all three at the same time—another way to save water.
If everyone were to develop even the minimal suggestions given above for conserving water, billions of gallons of water would be saved constantly with very little effort, i.e., just by cutting wasted water use alone. Imagine the following savings:
We can see how quickly this all adds up!
2.12 Soil Drainage
Many soils in the world have only enough water reaching the drainage layer to keep small streams flowing at intervals of 6 or 8 feet; the rest of the gravel layer has become infiltrated by clay, and the gravel has begun to rise toward the surface. We are in the process of losing the drainage layer on a worldwide scale. The destruction of the drainage layer has been further intensified because some farmers have installed toxic plastic drain pipes a few feet below the surface in order to short-cut the percolating water and thereby further dry up the drainage layer.
Over 25 years ago, John Hamaker dug a pond in East Texas, and along 250 cut into the base of the hillside, there were only 2 or 3 sand channels where the water was still coming down the hill—all the rest had been sealed up by clay long ago. The water simply penetrated the 8" of sandy loam, to the dense clay beneath it and drifted downhill—an ideal set-up for sheet erosion if anyone tried to plow the land. Topsoil there eroded in heavy rains. There is a penalty for failure to maintain the drainage layer.
When lands begin to fall off in yield, they usually cease to have useful productivity in a few decades, and no amount of agricultural chemicals can bring that production back or keep it from dropping to a lower yield—at this point, the unused, fine rock material has stopped coming up from the subsoil because there isn't anymore. During the few decades when the soil collapses in yield, the fine material is used up and the major part of the surface area of rock is gone, i.e., the availability of elements has all but ended. This is why remineralization, as discussed later in this lesson, is needed—not random chemical "fertilizer" application, which is either unbalanced and/or lacks elements needed for proper growth of microorganisms, and thus, plant life itself.
All underground water eventually drains into a stream bed, or lake; it then comes up in springs at a lower elevation or runs directly into the ocean. The point is that the capacity of the subsoil drainage layer in any area has been geared to the annual rainfall and water penetration under natural conditions. When we alter the amount of water reaching and being maintained in the drainage layer, we are in trouble. If we decrease the amount of water by losing it to surface run-off, we will lose water and therefore sand and gravel from the drainage layer. This sand and gravel cannot be replaced. Arid soils have very little drainage layer left, simply because a drainage layer which isn't kept full of slowly-flowing water will clog up with fine, worn-out particles which will eventually displace the drainage sands and gravels and lift them to the topsoil. The sea salts carried in by infrequent rains accumulate in the soils for lack of sufficient water to establish drainage systems and thereby flush the salts back to the ocean. When dry lands are irrigated, they tend to become water-logged for lack of drainage. The salts dissolve and are left on the surface when surface moisture evaporates. The best use of arid soils is to put them back into grass, the way most of them were when the land was settled. With remineralization, more and better grass can be grown for animals. Many remineralized arid and semi-arid lands could also be afforested with valuable drought-resistant trees and shrubs (e.g. pistachio, jojoba). The water left in the underground reservoirs should be reserved for people and livestock. The refill rate of the reservoirs is much too slow to support irrigation, as shown by steadily-falling water tables in most exploited areas.
The mineral requirements to support the growth of soil organisms (hence plants) are a natural balance of the available (to the microorganisms) elements in the total mixture of the rocks on the top layers of the earth's crust, and the natural balance of the elements dissolved and suspended in sea water brought with the clouds. The mineral balance of salted soils must be restored by remineralization and by allowing large quantities of plant refuse to go back into the topsoil. The plant refuse would provide the carbon requirements of the microorganisms; the gases in the air and water complete their food requirements.
The Ethiopian drought is a forewarning of widespread regional water crises in the 1990s that could rival the energy crisis of the last decade, according to a study by the worldwatch Institute. Falling water tables and dry riverbeds indicate a widespread overuse of water resources, and if current trends continue, fresh water in many areas may become a constraint on economic activity and food production over the coming decades. In the United States, areas where excessive withdrawal of undergound water supplies threatens its future availability include the High Plains from Nebraska to Texas; the Colorado River basin, particularly the areas around Phoenix and Tucson; the Florida and Pacific coasts; and much of California. The report cites statistics from the U.S. Geological Survey estimating that the Ogallala Aquifer, used for irrigating one-fifth of U.S. cropland, is now half-depleted under 2,200,000 acres of Texas, New Mexico, and Kansas. Rising pumping costs and falling well yields associated with the depletion of the Ogallala are causing farmers to take land out of irrigation. Still, most officials continue to take a "frontier approach" that looks to dams and other multibillion-dollar diversion projects as a solution, failing to see the unfortunate irony in the situation. While the government pays farmers to idle rain-fed cropland in an effort to avoid price-depressing surpluses, farmers are exhausting a unique, underground water reserve to grow these same crops. The government is encouraging waste of water from the Ogallala by giving farmers a depletion tax break based on the drop in the water level under their land. Instead, says Worldwatch, the government should be taxing that water use.
If we continue to ignore warning signs of future water shortages, and close our eyes to the waste and overuse of decreasing water supplies, we will pay dearly for our indifference. We need not imagine what our lives would be like without water—we need only look at the suffering people in Africa to see the stark reality of what extensive drought can do. Television brought the starving, emaciated bodies of drought victims into our living rooms in 1984, and it is a painful sight, but one that we must face up to. Thousands of people have been reduced to skeletons as the drought takes its toll.
In the African country of Mauritania, not only must they cope with the severe drought plaguing 6ther African countries as well, but they must also cope with the spreading Sahara desert—one government official says the parched and rainless country "could disappear from the map in 10 years, and become only sand." The Sahara is literally pushing southward; crews along a key highway passing through 690 miles of Mauritania wage a daily battle with the desert, trying to keep the road clear of wind-blown sands. Crops are gone after being withered by a drought that has affected some areas since 1969, and covered by the shifting dunes of the Sahara. With two-thirds of its land already swallowed up by the desert, Mauritania now produces only about 5% of the food it needs. Cereal production used to average 100,000 tons annually, but was estimated at 15,000 tons in 1984. The government is trying to, drill holes for water in the countryside to slow the rush to the towns. Vast herds of cattle (about 80%) have died, or have been driven into neighboring Senegal for grazing (Senegal agreed to allow up to 300,000 animals to graze there), but now Senegal is also suffering from a drought. Although it defies all laws of common sense to keep cattle in areas so dry that even human beings can scarcely find enough to eat (and many don't), these people are raising animals because they've done so as long as they can remember; they don't know any other lifestyle. (If we are tempted to pass judgment, let's look at our own Society—we've certainly made enough environmental errors ourselves, wasting resources for rapid gains that result in long-term losses. Being more educated, what excuse would justify our own lack of foresight?) Some Mauritanians have goats, and donkeys are, of course, a necessity for those who depend on them for work. The nomadic way of life has been a tradition for many people here. In the past, during the worst times of drought, nomads moved to farming areas, then returned to their old way of life when pasture became available. International aid agencies now argue that there is no longer sufficient grazing land or water to sustain a nomadic life, and the U.S. embassy's 1984 economic report said there was no question that Mauritania's centuries-old nomadic way of life has been irreparably damaged. Nevertheless, those who can survive as nomads still cling to life and try to continue on as best they can. In all these countries affected by the drought, Africans struggle to survive with a severe shortage of water, limited resources, and less opportunities for education than we have here. Their courage should be a lesson to all of us who have been blessed with advantages that we far too often take completely for granted. Some of us panic at the mere thought of missing a single meal, or consider ourselves unfortunate if we can't afford a new outfit of clothes. Some of us would even feel underprivileged if we couldn't own a yacht. As a nation of consumers, we pride ourselves on our "high standard of living", and are dazzled by a vision of "progress" that has led many of us to become obsessed with "success", this success being measured in terms of our wealth and possessions. Swept along in the tide, inundated by commercials in the media urging us to "buy more", we tend to forget that what we perceive as a normal way of life here in this country is very rare in most of the world. In Lesson 53 we mentioned that our country uses more of the world's natural resources than any other country; our "high" standard of living is more expensive than we may care to admit.
Objectively speaking, we may be accused of being selfish. How do we justify this use of natural resources? Are we using them to better the lives of all our brothers and sisters around the world, to make the world a better place for all human beings to live in? Or are we using them to add to our own comfort, and patting ourselves on the back for our technological marvels, choosing to forget that millions of people in the world are still hungry? We have a right to survive, to secure the things that we need for our survival in this world—this is true. But if we already have 6 pairs of shoes and find ourselves gazing longingly into a store window at "just one more pair" we might stop and ask ourselves why we want to have more than we need. What is it within us that keeps us unsatisfied? Why do we never seem to have enough?
We've trailed a bit off the subject of water here, but it is time to see ourselves honestly in the mirror. It is time to appreciate the things that we have, because it is too easy to forget where all these things come from if we don't stop for a moment to realize how precious water and all our natural resources are, and to do everything in our power to appreciate them and conserve them all, before "the well" runs dry.
Home > Lesson 100 - Restructuring The Way We Produce Our Foods - Part II
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