2 Jan 2015

Please help improve the calendar!

The 2015 Water Smarts Calendar has one theme per month, based on chapters from Living with Water Scarcity.

Each theme comes with a short blurb on context and an exercise designed to illuminate another way in which water flows though your life.

I'm now setting the digital file to print the calendar, but I'd love to get corrections or suggestions on how to improve wording and -- especially -- the exercises.

Please leave your suggestions in the comments, or -- if you're a markup kinda person -- in this Word document using "track changes." I'm especially worried about vague or unclear "activities."


Price, value and cost. Benjamin Franklin said "we know the worth of water when the well is dry, but most of us have never experienced such scarcity. We may thus assume that water is abundant until it's gone. Read more in the Introduction of Living with Water Scarcity.

Activity: Pretend you have to leave your house and walk 5 minutes to get clean water. How much would you pay to get 10 liters (2.5 gallons) delivered to your home each day? How much for 10 more liters? Compare your values to others in your house. Lesson: Value of water.


One choice is no choice. Water utilities try to supply enough water to meet everyone's "need," but needs differ among customers. Utilities group customers in "classes" to determine charges for service and use. Read more in Chapter 1 of Living with Water Scarcity.

Activity: Call your local water provider (or look on their website) to find your customer class. (Most residential customers are grouped according to the size of their piped connection, i.e., 0.5-0.75 inches or 15-20 mm.) Compare your service and water charges to those in other classes (other residential, commercial, etc.), paying special attention to unit prices of water. Lesson: Customer service.


Subsidies anyone? Urban water systems are expensive to build, so their costs are often paid back over decades. These costs fall unevenly on customers for reasons that vary from sensible to unfair. Read more in Chapter 2 of Living with Water Scarcity.

Activity: Get your water bill* and fill in the calculator at watersmartscalendar.com to compare your water use and charges with those of other people. Lesson: Water price and consumption.

* Renters often “pay for water” in their rent. Your landlord may show you the master bill if you say you're investigating ways to reduce water use (and thus their costs). It may take some time to find “your share” of use and charges.


Who's the boss? Elected or appointed regulators oversee water utilities to ensure that customers get the best service at the lowest price. Their job is complicated because they are outsiders with other responsibilities. Read more in Chapter 3 of Living with Water Scarcity.

Activity: Find the regulator for your utility. Municipal "public" utilities are usually overseen by people from city government; Investor-owned "private" utilities are usually overseen by a separate commission. Read the paperwork from a recent meeting on charges and services (or attend the next meeting). Lesson: Who you depend on.


How clean? The quality of water at our taps and is usually better than the quality going down the drain, but quality can change as water moves through pipes and natural channels. Read more in Chapter 4 of Living with Water Scarcity.

Activity: Get a water quality report from your utility to find the levels of allowed and measured contaminants in the water leaving the treatment plant. Extra credit: test the quality of the water from your tap (some utilities will do this for free, but you can pay for kits or lab testing). Lesson: Water is rarely pure.


The water in your food. Water is used to grow and process food. In some cases, water consumption is "sustainable;" in others, it is not. Read more in Chapter 5 of Living with Water Scarcity.

Activity: Find a food or drink you like at waterfootprint.org/?page=files/productgallery. Now go to www.wri.org/applications/maps/agriculturemap (alternative: http://www.wri.org/our-work/project/aqueduct/aqueduct-atlas) to see if it comes from a region facing water stress. Lesson: Your distant impact.


Your water comes from our water. People share water in many ways, sometimes without knowing. Read more in Chapter 6 of Living with Water Scarcity.

Activity: Find the largest source of water (river, lake, groundwater, etc.) for your utility. Now identify other users of water (cities, farms, ecosystems) from the same source. Lesson: Who uses what.


A right to water. Some people do not have enough money to pay for water services that cost money. Who will pay? Read more in Chapter 7 of Living with Water Scarcity.

Activity: Call your local water utility and ask how to get water service if you lose your job (source of income) and cannot pay. Ask how the cost of your service will be financed. Lesson: Rights cost money.


Expensive pipes and dams. Water infrastructure is expensive to build but lasts for decades. Who pays for what, when? Read more in Chapter 8 of Living with Water Scarcity.

Activity: Identify a major project (treatment plant, network extension, dam, etc.) at your water utility. Compare its cost to how it will be financed (e.g., bonds repaid by monthly service charges) over its service life. Lesson: Small payments add up to big money.


Water conflict. Politicians decide who gets water, but it may not be clear if recipients represent the public interest. Read more in Chapter 9 of Living with Water Scarcity.

Activity: Find an example of conflict over water allocation (e.g., water for irrigation or a river; water to one city or another) and assess the claims of why each side deserves the water. Lesson: Subjective opinion or objective truth?


Where's your environment? Our water does not come “from the tap” but from local ecosystems that may be under stress from urban and agricultural demands. Strained ecosystems mean fewer fish, less clean water and other undesirable impacts. Read more in Chapter 10 of Living with Water Scarcity.

Activity: Where does the water come from near your house? Find your "watershed" on a map. Now find the largest river in the watershed. How much water does it hold? Where does the water come from and go to? How much is diverted before it reaches its end? Lesson: The ecosystem that supports your life.


Lessons learned. Water flows are complicated by the many ways different people use water.

Activity: Reflect on what you've learned and considered over the past year. Go to watersmartscalendar.com to write what surprised you, what you still want to know, and where action is needed in managing the water flowing through your life. Lesson: Water issues are local.