Water News

Water, water everywhere, And all the boards did shrink: Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink. Coleridge

There is a drought in the west, floods in North Carolina, the reservoirs in Brazil are drying up, and 663 million people are said to be living without access to water. Meanwhile, cities are experimenting with recycled waste water and in some countries desalinization of sea water. Water has become one of the crises of our times.

Tomorrow, March 22nd, is World Water Day. To acknowledge the day, I begin with a report of a study, the kind I love. It’s an article by Arron Carroll in the Times (8/24/15) that deals primarily with the recommendation to drink 8 glasses of water a day. According to Carroll, there’s no evidence to support this.

Although I have not read the original study, Carroll reports a paper he co-authored in 2007 on medical myths. The first was that people should drink at least 8 8-ounce glasses of water a day. He says people continue hold that belief, in spite of evidence to the contrary.

The same finding was reported in a book on medical myths that once again “debunked” the idea that we need 8 glasses of water a day. Carroll says water is present in fruits and vegetables. I drink coffee twice a day and tea once, both are said to dehydrate you. Carroll claims the research shows that’s not true either.

How did the water recommendation get started? It may have been a 1945 Food and Nutrition Board report recommending that people need that much water per day. You’d think by now, 70 years later, the myth would have been dispelled, that the weight of the evidence would have called it into question.

But no. The belief spread, remains unexamined, and has assumed a kind of cultural truth that is virtually impossible to alter.

At the same time, the water news from Israel presents a more optimistic picture. Faced with year after year of drought, the government took drastic steps to curb water consumption and increase water resources. Isabel Kershner reports in the Times (5/29/15) the following measures were instituted:

1. A heavy tax was placed on excessive household water consumption.

2. Individuals were told to cut their shower time by two minutes, washing cars was prohibited and watering lawns was heavily taxed and only permitted in the evenings.

3. A major national effort was made to desalinate Mediterranean seawater, with five plants now in operation.

4. At the same time, programs were developed to recycle wastewater.

5. Large cuts were made in the annual water quotas for farmers.

6. Water Authority representatives went door-to-door offering free low-flow showerheads and advice on how to conserve household water consumption.

Kershner observes that taken together these measures have provided Israel with more than enough water for all its needs, even during periods of severe drought, and even enough now to export.

The lesson here is abundantly clear. This is what is required to overcome the periods of extreme drought currently faced by California, other western states and elsewhere throughout the world.


Stefanie said...

The whole 8 glasses of water is a weird one, isn't it? There have been reports the last couple of years of people who play sports going to the hospital from over hydrating. The rule has been to drink even when you aren't thirsty because for some reason and it has caused some problems. So now the sports advice is back to drink when you are thirsty. To me that seems like the best advice all along. Our bodies are pretty good at letting us know when we need water.

Israel has done great work when it comes to water it seems. Hopefully California can follow their lead!

Richard Katzev said...

Stefanie: Yes, it is weird if Carroll is correct. After reading his two secondary accounts, I've reduced my water consumption, without any obvious effects. I have about 8 oz. of water with lunch and dinner, plus the coffee and tea I mentioned. Fruit, vegetables too. So far, so good. I found a statement on the Web that I'll quote in full:

"The panel recommends preventing hyponatremia by being in tune with your body and drinking when you’re thirsty — no more, no less.

"Using the innate thirst mechanism to guide fluid consumption is a strategy that should limit drinking in excess and developing hyponatremia while providing sufficient fluid to prevent excessive dehydration," according to the guidelines, published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine.

As for Israel, like much else in that small nation, the fact that they have apparently solved their water problems is quite remarkable. However, they have other problems that they haven't been so successful in solving, as I'm sure you know. Richard

Dom said...

Thinking about the medical myth that we need eight 8 8-ounce glasses of water a day and that “The belief spread…” makes me think about those people who are often referred to as “climate change deniers”, who contend that climate change is not caused by humans, such as by burning coal, but instead caused by other natural factors that have influenced world weather numerous times during the course of world history.

I wonder if the thought process, and arguments, of such “deniers” might include:

1. There are many instances throughout world history where medical, other scientific types and other authorities have vigorously advocated certain beliefs to be true, and based upon allegedly credible evidence, only for such beliefs to later be argued and proven to be false and unreliable.

2. For example, such authorities previously advocated that people should drink at least 8 8-ounce glasses of water a day, which has been “debunked”.

3. There are numerous other examples throughout history where “scientific types” previously strongly argued in favor of, and presented evidence in favor of, other beliefs that have since been scientifically repudiated, showing the fallibility of “scientific types”.

4. So doesn’t history show us that “scientific types” are not always correct in the conclusions that they draw?

5. So why should we believe the “scientific types” now about climate change being caused by humans, when they have been wrong so many times in the past, such as in connection with their claim that we need eight 8 8-ounce glasses of water a day?

In light of the spotty record accuracy of these scientific types in the past throughout world history:

A. How should this reasoning process of these “climate change deniers” be responded to, who contend that climate change is not caused by humans, such as by burning coal, but is caused instead by other natural factors that have influenced world weather numerous times during the course of world history?

B. How should we know what to believe, and not believe, about what the “scientific types” tell us to believe?

C. How should those who contend that climate change is caused by humans, such as by the burning of coal, respond to such “denier” reasoning?

I wonder. Your thoughts?

Richard Katzev said...


Scientific research is always tentative. Scientific claims are never proven. If they are testable, they are always subject to falsification.

I hesitate to label anyone as a scientific type; if fact I try not to attach any kind of label to a person.

No scientist says that it is proven that humans are largely responsible for climate change. Rather, they say the weight of the evidence points in that direction.

Later I will post a blog about this topic, but for now, I'd rather focus on various water problems.


Richard Katzev said...

A report on the New Yorker website describes a relatively unknown, yet elegantly simple, technique for collecting water from fog. The report is described at

Linda said...

Thank you!! I too drink coffee twice each day, morning and afternoon, and frequently a cup of tea in the evening. So I try to drink more water to offset the dehydration effects of the coffee and tea. TWO things I no longer have to worry about! Not to mention saved steps to you know where.

And wouldn't you know the Israelis would conceive of and successfully execute a solution to their water shortage problem. Amazing people!

Richard Katzev said...


I stopped drinking coffee in the afternoon in the belief that it interfered with nighttime sleeping. Ditto for tea in the evening. The water I drink at meals seems to be enough for me now. The water in all the fruits and vegetables I eat seems to be sufficient. And yes, the morning coffee avoids having to trek over to you know where. True the Israelis are an amazing people, although I find the rise and current dominance of the conservative government very worrisome.