A Sip of Water

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I stood at my kitchen sink scrubbing dishes, when I realized I was letting water run down the drain for no reason. I work in clean tech, and I believe that measurement and awareness inspires conservation. If I had a meter above my sink, what would it show me about the worth of that water?

Bay Area residents use anywhere from 50 to almost 300 gallons of water per day. Wherever we are on that spectrum, we probably don't think that our usage is negotiable. But new water bills are trying to make us think. On one bill, I learned that running water while I wash dishes or brush teeth wastes at least five gallons a day.

Still, I'm inert. It's so easy to turn on the tap: there's no apparent urgency to stop me.  I never think about my water source way up in the Sierras, or the complex system of pipes and pumps bringing it to me. There's a drought, and my daughter spends too long in the shower, but what can you do? We still have to shower.

In my kitchen is a picture of some children in Zambia. A friend went to their village to install a well. Before the well, these children walked to a watering hole three miles away, where they would fill their five-gallon jugs, balance them on their heads and be careful not to spill on the long walk home. Balanced on a child's head, every morning, was the amount of water I waste every day just spacing out at the sink They used that water all day to grow food, bathe and cook. My friend watched a woman returning from her first trip to the new well. She was still careful not to spill a single drop.
With our abundant supply system, one billable unit of water is 748 gallons. We have the luxury of not counting by ladles or sips. It will take more than a meter to show us the treasure we hold in a shower head, a kitchen tap or a single cup of water.

With a Perspective, I'm Sharon Talbott.


Sharon Talbott is a behavioral marketing consultant to companies who develop conservation solutions for utilities. She lives in San Francisco.