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Taking on Water by Wendy Pabich

Review by Doug Pushard

Taking on Water is an entertaining and insightful book that chronicles the trials and tribulations of a self-proclaimed “water deva” as she strives for more knowledge about her own water usage and initiates conservation measures at home.

In her professional life, Wendy is well versed in the challenge of water conservation. She is founder of Water Futures and actively works for more sustainable water use. She holds a PhD in Environmental Engineering from Parsons Laboratory for Environmental Science and Engineering at MIT, a master’s degree in Urban Studies and Planning from MIT, another master’s degree in Geology from Duke University, and a BA from Dartmouth.

Although she had been active in watershed conservation, rebuilding watersheds and finding more sustainable practices for communities, she had not yet conquered her own water usage. This insightful book documents her odyssey in fully discovering and understanding her own water consumption and making the changes necessary to become comfortable with her water usage in her home in Hailey, Idaho, which she shares with her husband James and their dog Clementine.

Anyone who has looked into or consciously adopted a more sustainable lifestyle will appreciate Wendy’s quest for knowledge. While it is true that almost all of us can live more sustainably without making major sacrifices in comfort, learning to do so can be a daunting task. Choices aren’t always straightforward and information isn’t always readily available. It seems that our consumer-oriented society is ill equipped to help us decide between competing alternatives.

Americans have the highest water footprint of any country in the world, so you would think that conservation would be a snap. However, many Americans fail to recognize that conservation is an issue and many who do find it quite overwhelming and procrastinate.

Wendy’s epiphany came in the form of a 30,000 gallon monthly water bill. She knuckled down and one by one went through all the possible ways she could reduce her water consumption. She also documented her path for others to follow.

Time and lots of research led to obvious and not so obvious choices. She sometimes chose, not the most costly solution, but the one that she and her husband could do together. Some solutions worked as planned and others not. But in due time she managed to halve her water use without giving up her long, hot showers or their garden in arid, central Idaho.

The book is jam-packed with interesting facts about Americans’ typical water use:

  • On average, it takes nearly 385,000 gallons of water to produce food for one person for one day.
  • On average, it takes 245,000 gallons of water to produce electricity for one person for one day.
  • Babying our plants by watering them too much doesn’t help anyone – you, the plants or the planet.
  • Upgrading our nation’s toilets with water efficient models would save the country more than two billion gallons of fresh drinking water a DAY!

These are just a few of the nuggets that Wendy uncovered in her quest. True to her analytical nature, she documented her findings and wrote about her experiences with the people who assisted her, the roadblocks and frustrations she encountered along the way, and her final approach.

As Wendy discovered more about her own water use, she uncovered the water/energy nexus — by reducing water use, we automatically reduce our energy use and our carbon footprint. By living more simply, we are kinder to the planet and we save money.

Wendy’s path toward “water nirvana” included some of the more obvious solutions, such as installing low-flow toilets, as well as more challenging behavioral and attitude changes (e.g., learning to enjoy outdoor solar showers in the buff). She also found that today’s science is not exact in determining the water footprint of the foods she eats and her other consumer choices. Calculating the amount of water used to produce food and other products is a new science and the numbers are just now being formulated and debated.

The book’s principle tenet is that we cannot wait for the government or companies to make conservation decisions for us. We must each strive to find our own place of comfort in living a more sustainable life. This means knowing our impact on the planet and doing something about it.

I recommend this book, for it documents the joyful path that one woman and one family traveled to achieve their “water nirvana” — without sacrificing the comforts we are so fortunate to have.

Related Links

Buy Book: Taking on Water
Related Books: Other Water Books and Films
Related Website: Wendy's Website - Becoming Water Wise





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