Grade 11, The Winsor School, Boston
Denise Labieniec, Teacher
An old Chinese proverb says: "If you want one year of prosperity, plant corn. If you want ten years of prosperity, plant trees. If you want one hundred years of prosperity, educate people."
Education remains an essential tool in advancing society's interests and goals, especially in an age when people more often passively receive than actively acquire. Community education promoted by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority about the perils of excess water consumption and the economic benefits of conserving water has had the most significant impact on reducing water usage over the years. Not only is the education accessible to a large segment of the population, but also its proposed actions are easy to execute and result in direct economic benefit for the initiators.
Until viewing Massachusetts Water Resources Authority brochures about water conservation at a community center, I had associated environmental issues with forest exploitation, habitat destruction, and energy conservation. Never did water appear as a finite resource. Therefore, I used water liberally throughout the day without considering the amount of water I was consuming. In the morning, I left the faucet running for 3 minutes as I brushed my teeth, and at night, I left the faucet running for another 3 minutes. (I use a sand timer, so the water was left running for 6 minutes every day as I brushed my teeth). Before leaving the house, I would pack myself three Poland Spring water bottles for the school day. At night, I would indulge in long, hot showers that I convinced myself were justified because I had studied diligently at school for an entire day.
Among other sections, the posters I viewed had a section dedicated to home water conservation. I found the statistics and information fascinating because they clearly affected my daily life. After performing some mental math, I determined that leaving the faucet running for 6 minutes every day wasted 12 gallons of water (bc.edu). These 12 gallons of water could alternatively be used to supply clean drinking water to one child for 24 days (unicef.org).
In addition, I was shocked to discover that gulping large mouthfuls of Dasani water purchased from the gym vending machine post-workout was detrimental to my health. Unlike tap water, bottled water does not contain fluoride, a mineral that prevents tooth decay. In addition, purity guidelines for bottled water are less stringent than those for tap water. The FDA does not require bottled water to be tested for parasites such as E.coli or fecal coliform bacteria, but tap water must be routinely screened for the presence of harmful parasites (bc.edu). I had previously avoided drinking tap water for fear of toxins such as mercury and lead, but according to the brochure, Massachusetts' water does not contain these contaminants. Upon further online research, I discovered that the lead concentration levels have been steadily decreasing every year, and that in September 2011,98.2% of all high-risk homes had minimal lead levels (mwra.com).
Finally, I learned that shortening my marathon showers by only 1 minute every day would save 700 gallons of water a month and slash my family's water bill by 50% (bc.edu). Luckily, I do not pay the water bills, but considering that lower water bills meant happier parents and an increased allowance, I decided that I would try to save water in the ways proposed by the brochure. Since that day, I have come across many other brochures in public areas such as libraries and parks. It is likely that numerous other students have decided to do their parts in conserving water, if not for the environment's benefit, then for their own health and economic benefit. For me, the fact that conserving water would mean a future with clean and sufficient
water was an added plus to my water conservation plan. I felt mature taking responsibility of my own health and helping my parents save money, and I felt even better advocating for an environmental cause.
In recent years, many towns in the MWRA service area, including my hometown of Newton, have increased water and sewer rates every year. The reasons behind these changes vary, but in Newton, the Board of Aldermen hopes that the increased water fees will allocate a larger budget toward improving the city's crumbling water and sewer systems. Citing economic concerns, a majority of residents say that they will attempt to conserve water and use it more calculatingly. In addition to slashing water bills, the diminished use of water will lead to much needed improvements to the city's infrastructure. In 2011, the city of Newton spent $10 million a year in excess water treatment (newton.patch.com). Following the May 2011 decision to increase water bills by 7.7 percent, the June-August 2011 water consumption charts show a decrease or minimal increase in water use in Newton. The reduction in water consumption in Newton contrasts with the constant or increasing water consumption rates in nearby towns such as Brookline that did not increase water bills for its residents. Therefore, a strong correlation exists between water consumption and water bills.
In my case, and most likely in other cases as well, education about the importance of water conservation to the environment and its economic benefits has been a key factor in reducing water consumption. Even if one is not an advocate for the environmental advantages of water conservation, one is certainly concerned about one's health and bills. Compared to other water reduction strategies that the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority has implemented, such as encouraging the installation of low flow toilets and shower heads, education is more accessible. Because educational brochures propose minimal lifestyle changes, its suggestions can be easily implemented. On the other hand, replacing outdated toilets and appliances with water efficient devices costs money. Naturally, one might focus on the short term cost of purchasing new devices rather than on the long term benefits of water conservation and economic benefit. A majority of the population adhering to the water conservation guidelines on brochures will likely preserve more water than a minority of the population installing water-efficient appliances. In a perfect world, our own consciences and desires for environmental sustainability would motivate us to conserve water and use the precious resource responsibly. Ironically, though, our own wishes to save money have resulted in the continuing trend of decreasing water consumption throughout Massachusetts. On a high note, however, environmental awareness that stems from our conscience will often follow our environmentally friendly lifestyle changes due to economic benefit. Initially, I turned off the faucet while brushing my teeth to save my parents' money and thus receive a greater allowance, but now I can say that I conserve water when I imagine young girls my age trekking long distances each day to haul clean drinking water for their families. Still not totally environmental, but getting there.
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