Upon returning to her home in the high alpine desert of Idaho after an Alaskan trip, water expert Wendy J. Pabich, Ph.D, was horrified when she opened her monthly water bill.
Her newly installed irrigation system used 30,000 gallons to water a small quarter acre urban lot during the heat of summer.
“I was floored,” she said.
The water bill came as a shock not because of the cost, but rather because Pabich was an environmental scientist and expert on sustainable water use who always considered herself a conservative water user.
So she set out to understand and reduce her direct use of water as well as evaluate her larger water footprint and chronicled her journey in the book, “Taking on Water.”
Pabich will visit Nevada City to talk about water and share tips on reducing water consumption at 7 p.m. Monday during a Bear Yuba Land Trust Armchair Trek held in the community room at the Madelyn Helling Library.
The event is sponsored by Urth Organic.
Pabich toured the U.S. on a book tour last fall and discovered that while many are familiar with carbon footprints, the idea of water footprints hasn’t gained as much attention.
“It isn’t general dinner conservation,” she said.
In her book, Pabich took a closer look at all the direct and indirect ways water was used in her life from the food in her pantry to her days on the ski hill and the energy cost of a plane flight.
“I went through the whole process,” Pabich said.
The book is part memoir, part investigation, part solution manual, filled with ruminations on philosophy, science, facts, figures and personal behavioral insights.
First she made structural changes. She replaced a water-hogging washing machine, changed lightbulbs and installed low flow toilets.
She realized she needed to go further and discovered that water touched her life in hidden ways.
“It’s the behavioral things that are less obvious … You really have to pay attention,” she said.
She learned it takes 2,200 gallons of water to grow the cotton for one pair of jeans and a pound of beef can take as much as 1,800 gallons to produce.
Though she eats low on the food chain and her average annual water usage is far below the national average, Pabich’s small household — with husband and dog — was using 400,000 gallons a year.
In the U.S., the average consumer uses 750,000 gallons of water each year. With global consumption on the rise, there is simply not enough water to go around in the future, Pabich predicts.
Changing water habits won’t come until consumers begin paying the true intrinsic cost of this finite resource, not just the price of delivery and treatment, she said.
At a time when climate change is already upsetting the balance, Pabich says there is a price for the comforts we choose, such as contaminated and depleted water.
“It’s a complicated series of choices we’re making,” she said.
Pabich is an environmental scientist, speaker, educator, adventurer and artist obsessed with all things water. She is the founder and president of Water Futures, Inc. Learn more: http://waterdeva.com/