Confessions of a water deva
April 25, 2012 By Art Throb
Ripple Effect:The Art of H2O in the Art and Nature Center at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) displays water in all it’s glory—from ice music by Terje Isungset to 9-square-mile snow drawings in Siberia by Jim Denevan—celebrating the fundamental element in all its states.
As part of “Our Watery World” during April school vacation events, Marblehead native Wendy Pabich, aka The Water Deva, revealed the hidden demands on water with a reading from her forthcoming book, Taking on Water, and then lead collaborative creation of a wave sculpture that represents the waterprint of a single pair of blue jeans—2,000 gallons.
We all have them—waterprints, that is. Pabich, an environmental scientist with her doctorate in environmental engineering from MIT, master’s degrees in urban planning and geology from Duke and MIT respectively, and an educator, author, adventurer, and artist “obsessed with all things water,” realized she too was “blanketed by the guilt of hypocrisy,” she said.
Pabich and her husband live the green life in the high alpine desert of Idaho on .19 acres containing a bountiful organic garden, trees, and lawn. During the 75-day growing season, they were using up to 30,000 gallons of water per month. The first bill, just $59, “announced the implications of her sloth,” she said. “It wasn’t the bill” that disturbed, it was their alarming usage of 308 gallons per day, she said. Pabich is not alone, of course. The U.S. average is a 147 gallons per person per day—gluttonous compared to usage in most of the world. Although Salem’s use is about half the national average, our drinking water source, the Ipswich River, is the lowest it has ever been. Pabich showed her PEM audience the picture from the cover of a recent Salem News. With a lack of snow and rain this year, many towns in the region that draw from the river have much to be concerned about, and we can all learn something from Pabich’s quest.
“I’m the water deva for Christ sake,” she said to her husband, frantically waving the first shocking water bill. Pabich owns the consulting firm Water Futures and helps businesses navigate the water sector and municipalities, ranchers, and conservation organizations to protect water resources and reduce waterprints. The firm’s mission is to assist communities with positioning themselves for a sustainable water future. She has been all over the world studying nutrient loading and emerging contaminants from wastewater treatment plants, fertilizers, and the atmosphere and their effects on rivers. Pabich serves on boards, addresses water rights, and regularly examines water usage. She is a waterkeeper in every sense of the word.
Quest for Waterprint Nirvana
Demoralized by her own household water use, Pabich said she “failed the water deva test,” and resolved to take the Water Deva Challenge. She would take a scientific approach to understanding her household waterprint, and then make structural, behavioral, and consumer changes to lower it. She added water meters to her irrigation system and in the house and kept clipboards by the sinks, toilet, washing machine, and dishwasher to record usage and notes like “let the yellow mellow.” She showed the crowd at PEM pie charts of the waterprint. Pabich’s use of humor made us all smile; her dog’s print turned out to be about half of hers. He’s a carnivore, of course, and she’s a more water wise vegetarian.
Second, she attacked the grass. “Turf is our number one irrigated crop,” in the United States, she said. “If we’re talking about a food shortage, why are we growing grass?” She kept only one patch of grass, zoned her vegetable beds where the low bed needs watering only once every two weeks, added microtube drip irrigation and rain barrels, and since her region only experiences 60 inches of rain per year, consulted an expert in drought tolerant plants. “That’s how we began solving the challenge in our yard,” she said.
In the house, she made equal strides, replacing her goliath washing machine that was using 43 gallons per wash, and ordering a specialized showerhead from water-strapped Australia. My eyes glazed over. Pabich and I not only share a tremendous desire to conserve and protect water, but also find the long, hot shower a luxury too hard to give up. This remarkable device has a lever that stops hot water during lathering and shaving.
“Maybe its assuaging guilt,” she said, but the bottom line is she was able to challenge her inner hypocrite and reduce her household waterprint without sacrificing a toasty shower. Yes, that is Water Deva Nirvana.
Read more from Pabich, like Water Footprinting in Action at PEM, on her blog Hydrophilia.
Andrea Fox is a freelance writer from Beverly. She runs Andrea Fox Communications, is a member of the Salem Sound Coastwatch Board of Directors, and is Founder and Co-Chair of Citizens for Salem Beverly Water Resources.
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