This summer, I was fortunate enough to work with EAF director, Dr. Sabina Shaikh, to research water usage on campuses and ways to employ behavioral research to mitigate the overuse of water at the University of Chicago. The research I have compiled from numerous universities, hotel chains, aquariums, zoos, and research documents could have a vital role in aiding our student body in reducing water usage on campus, thus protecting the Great Lakes.
Every day, approximately 44 billion gallons of water are drawn from the Great Lakes for public use. These lakes make up North America’s single largest fresh water system, around 84% of the surface fresh water for the entire continent and a whopping 21% of the entire world’s fresh water supply. The Great Lakes span over 750 miles and provide a good source for harvesting power, expediting transportation, and feeding the country, between the fertile basin lands which grow 7% of America’s crops and the verdant waters full of ample fish. Because of all this, water is one of the region’s most valuable resources and it is the duty of those who garner its benefits the most to try to conserve water usage through responsible water management.
As a university, there are many steps we can take to reduce the immense toll we exert on the Great Lakes through education and outreach. There is often a sense of apathy towards water usage on college campuses and the reason is multifaceted; first, because we cannot see the tangible impact of water conservation in the way we can quantify other conservation efforts, we tend to downplay the importance of responsible water management. Next, because most individuals live in dorms and never see a water bill, they feel as though water is in an unlimited supply. In addition, individuals often hold the conception that saving water requires more burdensome sacrifices than other conservation efforts, such as recycling or using a refillable water bottle. Once we overcome these barriers, water conservation can become much more widely executed. Although effective marketing tools jointly developed by the University and environmental agencies can be implemented to overcome the first two barriers I mentioned, it will likely be more difficult to surmount the third issue, which is driven by human behavior. However, there are some basic changes you can make to your everyday behavior to help solve this problem as well. Simple measures, like turning the water off while you brush your teeth can save 3.75 gallons per brushing. Washing laundry takes around 40 gallons of water per load, so washing when you have a full load every other week instead of every week saves around 1,040 gallons per year. Finally, taking shorter showers and avoiding high water use activities, like washing clothes or dishes on days when it rains, could save the pipes of your residence, as overuse of water can create a surge in the system, causing flooding, busted pipes, or potentially worse scenarios.
Being from Houston and being personally affected by Hurricane Harvey, I cannot stress how important it is to be knowledgeable about water usage. Because of the surge in storm water, plumbing has been halted, leaving people to scrounge and scavenge for whatever water they can find. Hurricane Harvey is not an isolated event; many hydrological disasters happen throughout the country, whether they be floods or droughts, and devastate those affected by taking their homes, livelihoods, and even their loved ones.
On a brighter note, aside from work, I have spent my time outdoors as much as possible, visiting the beach on 53rd street almost weekly, and walking my friend’s Jack-Russel Terrier, Jasper, throughout campus and to different parks all over the Chicagoland area. I have been spending a lot of time cooking for myself and my friends various healthy, locally sourced meals. I also visited my family back in Texas where we always enjoy outdoor excursions together. I am excited for the year to come, and to be a member of the EAF team!
Ally’s post is the third of EAF’s summer blog series introducing the 2017-18 EAF members.