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Water Conservation: The Tyranny of “Or”

Creating either/or scenarios leads us to discuss water as a zero-sum, winner-take-all game, when in fact, it is just the opposite. Think about it:

  • Roughly 70 percent of the water used globally is used for agriculture and irrigation. Of that, 30 percent is completely wasted, meaning it doesn’t go toward the ultimate goal of growing food. Imagine if we conserved just 15 percent of that water—we could, for instance, serve the city of Austin 10 times over.
  • Municipalities are the second largest water sector of water use behind agriculture and irrigation, and as our cities grow, the demand from our cities will increase. But cities can lose as much as 15 percent of their water through fixable issues like leaky pipes—it makes sense to prioritize programs that upgrade city infrastructure and support creative conservation solutions.
  • The most important aspect of energy production is the availability of fresh water: the oil and natural gas industry use it in every aspect of exploration and production, from enhanced recovery techniques to engine and compressor coolant. While we may disagree on the types of energy to ultimate rely on, what isn’t in question is the fact that we need reliable sources of energy to support our economies and supply our growing cities.

    The necessary conversation should not choose winners and losers; the end result should not be protecting only farmers or only cities or only energy and industry. Instead, let’s talk about how to serve the needs of each of those constituencies adequately and with fairness. To achieve that, we need to invest in large-scale, across-the-board conservation—it isn’t only about using less, but using what we have more efficiently. If we lose sight of that, we risk losing sight of our ultimate goal: ensuring a healthy environment for ourselves and for future generations.

    Laura Huffman is the director of The Nature Conservancy of Texas. A native of Austin, Huffman has a long and distinguished record of public service. She earned a master’s of public affairs from the University of Texas at Austin and a bachelor’s in political science with a minor in history from Texas A&M University. She makes her home in Austin, with husband Kent and their four children.

    [Photo credit: Flickr user fox_kiyo via Creative Commons]

    Read more: Environment, Green, Nature, News & Issues, , , , , , , , , ,

    By Laura Huffman, The Nature Conservancy

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    4:33PM PDT on Oct 29, 2012

    Thank you for posting, this article.

    3:36PM PDT on Oct 28, 2012

    thanks for sharing :)

    9:47AM PDT on Oct 23, 2012

    We must continue to move forward with conservation in our built environment. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification is worth mention here as the guidelines will continue to play a critical role in greening our cities by addressing both energy AND water conservation in our buildings. (see It's true that we must all take responsibility for conserving and protecting our natural resources. The framework put forth by the LEED certification process helps to set us on the right path.

    11:45AM PDT on Oct 21, 2012

    Everything is interconnected and true CONSERVATION of all, for ALL is the only solution!
    Outstanding article!!

    1:44AM PDT on Oct 21, 2012

    its a tyranny, it really cant be one way or the other, a compromise must be still struck, along with education and greater awareness.

    1:33AM PDT on Oct 21, 2012


    12:13AM PDT on Oct 21, 2012

    We had a serious drought of about 13 yrs in Australia which makes one a lot more aware of not wasting water.

    5:18PM PDT on Oct 20, 2012

    This can be reason for conflict in future,.........?!

    5:05PM PDT on Oct 20, 2012

    thank you

    2:36PM PDT on Oct 20, 2012


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    Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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