… if it’s brown, flush it down.”
This phrase was shown on large signboards in New York during a water shortage in the late 1940s, when I lived in Brooklyn. Ever since, I have been aware of the way I and others use water. This awareness was augmented by two separate experiences when in university in the early 1960s.
The first was having several undergraduate and graduate courses in the School of Public Health centered on the development of fresh water sources and the purification and transport of both clear and waste water.
The second experience was a course in basic economics, which included the subject “the tragedy of the commons.” Wikipedia says it is “a situation in a shared-resource system where individual users, acting independently according to their own self-interest, behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling the shared resource through their collective action. The theory originated … in 1833 by the British economist William Forster Lloyd, who used a hypothetical example of the effects of unregulated grazing on common land … in Great Britain and Ireland… In [the] modern economic context, “commons” is taken to mean any shared and unregulated resource such as atmosphere, oceans, rivers, fish stocks, roads, and highways, or even an office refrigerator.”
All this came to me as I brewed coffee today for my afternoon caffeine fix. Now that I am in voluntary quasi-isolation from everyone except my wife, I could take the time to be careful in my use of the tap water. I used a 1 decilitre cup, three times (turning the tap off in between ), poured the water into the heater, and, when steaming, into the coffee grounds in the filter sitting on top of my nicely designed William Morris mug.
I did not waste one drop of water. I filled the 1 dl cup to the top then turned the tap off, three times. Good boy!
I live in Sweden where there is good and, usually, plentiful water. I lived in Alaska at the same latitude as now (59-60 degrees north latitude) where there is also much fresh water. In both places I have occasionally offered thanks to the Great and Nameless Powers* for this water (*this is a construction I use in a novel I have been writing for ten years).
This led me to ponder on the great systems of water development and sewerage transport that we take for granted with rarely a thought or thanks for being here for us, even in this time when other services are diminished or not available at all.