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.