It may seem odd to talk about water conservation when Hurricane Irma recently dumped more than fifteen inches of rain on some areas[ii] and caused water levels to rise seven feet in just ninety minutes elsewhere[iii]. But the quote above neatly describes the irony of being surrounded by a plentiful supply of water that you cannot drink.
In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the plentiful water is, of course, the ocean. But the floodwater engulfing many parts of the Caribbean, Florida and other southern states is just as undrinkable because it is polluted with sewage, salt water, sediment and debris, posing a threat to the health of people, animals and crops. In some areas, this contaminated water has entered the public water supply, causing drinking water shortages.
Even where the water supply is unaffected, it’s important to remember that heavy rainfall does not always mean that there will be plentiful water to drink. During spells of normal rainfall, water soaks into the ground and gradually seeps deeper into underground aquifers – large areas of porous rock that hold water[iv] . During hurricanes or other heavy storms, the ground can’t soak up the water quickly enough and much of it runs off into rivers and oceans, laden with sediment and pollutants collected along the way. Heavy, infrequent rainfall delivers less water to the aquifers, which are relied upon to supply millions of people with drinking water, than steady, frequent showers.
Add to this the damage to infrastructure, such as storage tanks and water treatment facilities, caused by hurricanes, storm surges and floods and it’s clear that an excess of water can actually lead to a shortage of water!
Water conservation is the new normal
If you’re in an area affected by flooding or storms, it’s important to heed instructions from your local water supplier. Continue to boil water and limit flushing water into the sanitary system until restrictions are lifted.
Whether or not you’ve been directly affected this time, you can help to reduce the impact of future weather events such as floods or droughts by using only the water you need. You can find many online resources to help you save water and lower your bills (try here or here).
If you are really serious about water conservation, you might even follow the example of South African politician Helen Zille, who has recently revealed that she showers only every third day[v]. Although some people have expressed shock at the revelation, others have praised her response to the serious water shortages in the Western Cape Province.
However you do it, conserving water is an increasingly important way of life not only in the US but across the globe.
[i] Lines from “ The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The mariner, on board a becalmed ship, is surrounded by salt water that he cannot drink.