A young girl from the village of San Juan, El Salvador, holds bottles comparing the water available in the village.
Last fall, a story ran on the Associated Press wires about the depletion of fresh water supplies. But this wasn’t a story about Latin America or Africa; the depletion of fresh water supplies the story referenced is here, in the United States. According to the story, “the government projects that at least 36 states will face water shortages within five years because of a combination of rising temperatures, drought, population growth, urban sprawl, waste and excess.”
Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency say water efficiency is the wave of the future, and most states are moving toward conservation. But reducing inefficiencies comprises just one piece of a necessary comprehensive solution to this multifaceted puzzle. For the FSPA, it’s a puzzle worth trying to solve. Recently the Justice, Peace and Integration in Creation Committee (JPICC) began examining the issue, which ties together the politics of privatization of water; the responsibility of government to provide drinkable, ample water to people; and how we as consumers use and conserve the resource.
“It’s complicated,” says Liz Deligio, who serves on the JPICC. “How do you become a responsible consumer, especially on an institutional level?” Liz says the committee is in the information-gathering phase, and is looking at ways to incorporate responsible consumerism into the organization, while also educating the public. At issue is the availability of Coca-Cola products in the building, among other FSPA corporate practices. Both Coke and Pepsi bottle municipal water and sell it to the public, under the names Dasani and Aquafina (comprising a full 24 percent of the bottled water American consumers purchase). Coca-Cola’s fair labor practices in Colombia have also been called into question. And both giants in the soft drink world (as well as Nestle and Suez) are known to privatize water, creating water shortages and a new burden for the already economically disadvantaged. For now, the JPICC is searching for a company with fair labor practices which doesn’t bottle water and practices social responsibility. Ideally, the company would be locally-based to minimize the use of fuel to transport the goods while bolstering the local economy. Finding a business which meets these criteria is no small task.
In other parts of the St. Rose complex, water conservation is taken as seriously. The Franciscan Spirituality Center in the complex does not serve bottled water. The newest washing machine added to the laundry room at St. Rose is programmable, allowing staff to manage water usage according to the type of laundry and the detergent used. At the same time, the new washer is more energy efficient, while the design of the machine results in a better wash. Small steps, indeed, but the cumulative effect is substantial.
A woman collects clean water from a water tank make possible with help from FSPA's GATE program.
While the water crisis may seem too huge for any one individual to address, changing personal habits can have economic, ecological, political and social implications. Economically, Americans spent $10 billion on bottled water in 2005, and it took 47 million gallons of oil to produce the bottles for that water. If you were to pay for tap water at home what you pay for bottled water, your monthly water bill would top $9,000.
Ecologically, 86 percent of those same plastic bottles wind up in landfills and take thousands of years to decompose. If we were to stop buying bottled water, it would be the equivalent of removing 100,000 cars from the roads and taking one billion pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
Politically, purchasing bottled water—not to mention buying tap water filters—moves the responsibility of providing clean, safe water from our government to ourselves. “We need to hold our local government, our state governments accountable,” says Liz. “There’s no reason we need to buy filters or bottled water; our tap water should be clean enough to drink.”
Socially, we must see the use of water as it relates to our relationships to earth and to people around the globe, says Liz. “We have to enter into that with an awareness of how our choices are impacting a way of life that we may never see but that we have a responsibility to. The widow in India who loses access to her water so that I can have Dasani coke water in Chicago is a part of the decision I’m making. That sense of relationship doesn’t have to be overwhelming, but inspiring to know that your choices reach around the globe the same way government does.”
When you realize that one in six people in the world do not have access to clean drinking water, and that number is expected to rise to two-thirds of the population, suddenly that bottle of water leaves you thirsty for much more.
For more information about the water crisis, log on to www.foodandwaterwatch.org.
Water: What you can do
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