Water, Water Everywhere

Samuel Coleridge’s famous quote “Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink” came to mind recently as I sat by the edge of the Potomac River watching a dead catfish float to the surface from an unknown cause. Catfish are “bottom feeders.” If they can’t stay alive in the Potomac, this is not a good sign. I was in a boat launch area where we could see the gasoline discoloration lines on the lapping water’s edge. And when the breeze died down, I also could smell the gas fumes from boats that were anchored there. I certainly did not want to wade in that body of water, even though I was hot.

Americans tend to think of clean water as ubiquitous, unending and a divine right—if not a constitutional right. This attitude has evolved due to the relatively privileged lives most of us have had in the past few decades. It may seem excessively compulsive to be focused on conserving clean water when it is available all around us all the time. Frankly, our water bills are cheap relative to the value of receiving clean water on tap whenever we desire it. Perhaps the only way we will quickly come to the conclusion that water is a precious commodity is if we have to pay more for it or if we had to go without safe, clean water for three days after an earthquake (rude awakenings usually come right after an extraordinary event). Perhaps the oncoming drought will bring us to a heightened awareness.

During my visit to the Capitol, I always had bottled water with me in my car or in my hotel room. I drink a lot of water and am always shocked at how bad hotel faucet water can taste. My basic instincts kick in: if it tastes that bad, how can it possibly be okay to drink? Although I am very grateful for the steps taken with fluoride, chlorine and chloramine to make our water systems safe, it seems like the next step should be to make this water taste like clean water. I have installed a water filter system at home and at work so I can happily drink water from the tap. My heart goes out to those I read about in countries where all of a family member’s day is spent walking miles to get water to carry back to their home.

Due to my own heightened awareness of a potential water shortage this year in the Bay Area, I actually read the booklet the California Water Service Co. mailed to our home. On page 46 it states, “Due to population growth and environmental restrictions, our water supply for the entire Bay Area is limited.” Somehow it seems to me this sentence should be on the cover of the book with the word “limited” in all caps.

What I learned from reading the book cover to cover is that in addition to educational materials available online in the conservation section of Calwater.com, conservation supplies and certain plumbing fixtures are available at no charge through California Water’s customer service center and can be ordered online at Calwater.com. Items included are water efficient shower heads (2 gallons per minute maximum), kitchen and bathroom faucet aerators that restrict water flow, nozzles for outside watering hoses and toilet leak detection tablets.

The two water hogs the booklet points out are old toilets and aged washing machines. Old toilets use up to 7 gallons of water per flush. The new efficient ones use 1.28 gallons per flush; some are even more efficient. High-efficiency clothes washers use up to 50 percent less water and 50 percent less energy than traditional, older machines. If you want to make a positive difference in our community, purchasing high-efficiency toilets and washing machines would be the best contribution you could make, and you might stimulate the economy simultaneously.

Water, water everywhere and lots of it to drink—that is the quote and legacy we want to be remembered by. Take action now.


Iris Harrell, GC, CKD, CBD, CGBP, CGPA, founded Harrell Remodeling Inc. in 1985 in Mountain View, Calif. Harrell has spoken at NAHB and NARI conventions where she encourages other remodeling contractors to hire women in non-traditional jobs. She has garnered numerous national and regional personal awards for her work in the field and her advocacy for women.