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All Wet

2/24/2006 12:00:00 AM


Beware. I’m stepping up on the soapbox for a minute.

I just returned from Phoenix, which has me thinking about water. I’m thinking about water because there’s a severe lack of it in central Arizona right now—one of the worst droughts the region has seen in centuries.

Water (and lack of it) was a big topic of conversation as Tucson-based photographer Terry Moore and I spent the day shooting a delightful home in the hills of south Phoenix. Anne Schneider, the delightful homeowner, wisely chose an outdoor shower rather than a swimming pool for cooling off during the height of summer, and the shower runoff feeds into a wash that attracts quail, jack rabbits and coyote. The wash, which runs right by Anne’s dining patio and bedroom window, has been a lifesaver for many of these creatures during this barren winter (Phoenix hasn’t seen a drop of moisture since September). It’s also meant that Anne gets to share her little piece of paradise with the critters, who provide endless entertainment.

Not everyone in the Phoenix area is convinced that conservation is necessary, though. Terry, who’s selling his home in Tucson, told us he was about to close on a deal when a well-testing company arrived (per the buyers’ contract) to check out whether his well was in working order. To do so, they had to pump out all the water, spilling it without thought into the air. The idea was to empty the well, then see how quickly it refilled—until Terry couldn’t stand it anymore and told them to stop (possibly squelching his home sale in the process). I had to love him for taking that stand. (Another example of why I’m so lucky to work with the kind of people who contribute to Natural Home.)

My other water gripe is a little thing, and very possibly it doesn’t make a dent in Phoenix’s drought crisis. But while I stood at the sink in the airport bathroom to fix a contact lens, the water faucet turned on automatically. Even when I stepped away, it ran and ran—clean water spilling into the sink for no reason at all. It’s this kind of mindless waste that makes me crazy. (I have the same kind of indignant reaction when those automatic toilets start randomly flushing.)

So, I admit, Americans’ flippant ability to take clean water for granted turns me all stentorian and unattractively righteous. I’ve quoted the stats in speech after speech: Every day, we Americans take 3,600 billion gallons of water from the earth—enough to fill a line of Olympic-size swimming pools reaching around the earth—while 1 billion people lack access to clean water. I’ve read that the next great wars will be fought not over oil, but over water. Yet even in a region experiencing an epic drought, automatic faucets spill water down the drain and well testers cavalierly toss it into the air.

Saving water is just such an easy, no-hassle way to lower our impact (as anyone who’s heard my little rant about not flushing the toilet every time knows). I can’t help but wonder what it will take to get us there.

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