During the summer months, many United Methodists in the United States and elsewhere spend time near water. We camp by a lake, vacation at the beach, or lounge by a pool. Water is so readily accessible we can take it for granted.
For much of the world, however, the search for clean, safe water is an everyday chore that never takes a holiday.
Following Jesus's call to care for all people, Christians should be good stewards of water through acts of conservation and protection. "Our objective," says Elizabeth Lee, United Methodist Women Executive for Economic and Environmental Justice, "is to minimize our use of this most precious natural resource."
While water access issues can seem overwhelming, there are easy steps we can take to become better stewards of God's precious gift of water.
Use less for bathing
Taking showers instead of baths is a great way many of us already conserve water. The average tub holds 35-50 gallons of water and the average shower uses less than 25. If you have a small child, a bathtub insert can significantly decrease your water usage. Also, turn off the faucet when brushing your teeth or shaving.
Drink tap, not bottled
Tap water is cheaper, usually cleaner, and often tastes better than bottled water. Drinking tap water and filling reusable bottles, help reduce the production and disposal of plastic bottles—processes that are sometimes responsible for water pollution.
"If you're concerned about water that is tainted or has pollutants in it, put in a filtration mechanism," advises Lee. "That's a lot better than getting bottled water."
The privatization of water is also a concern. For example, Lee points to a dispute between a community in Michigan and a water bottling company that is requesting to pump 400 gallons of water per minute into their plant.
Lawns and landscaping can use a great deal of water. Because grass, bushes, and other plants do not naturally grow everywhere, they need extended periods of watering. Choose indigenous plants and landscaping elements that do not require water. When you do need to water, consider collecting rainwater to use for this purpose.
Use low flow faucets, showerheads, and toilets
Some simple replacements in your home (and a few that are more difficult) can greatly reduce water usage. In the United States, the US Environmental Protection Agency certifies and labels WaterSense products—those that use at least 20% less water while performing as well or better than models using more water.
Opt out of linen service when traveling
A significant portion of a hotel's water usage is laundering guests' sheets and towels. Simply reusing your towels and sleeping on the same sheets during a multi-night stay is a water-saver.
Use cloth napkins
"Laundering cloth napkins is much better in terms of water use versus paper napkins, because of the water needed to produce one sheet of paper," Lee shares. Consider using cloth napkins more frequently.
Reduce food waste
Raising the plants and animals we eat requires water. "So, reducing wasted food reduces wasted use of water," Lee explains.
Read what The United Methodist Church says about water in our Book of Resolutions, our Social Principles, and elsewhere. Learn about water crises and threats in Flint, Michigan, Zimbabwe, Standing Rock, South Dakota, and other parts of the world.
"Get together to watch Erin Brockovich," suggests Lorrie King referring to the movie about the water crisis in Hinckley, California in the 1990s. King is the WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), Food Security, and Livelihoods Programs Manager for the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Global Health. "Then have a conversation about water justice, what it means to us, and what our mitigation plan would be if this happened to us."
When giving seminars on water, King often asks those in attendance to envision their lives without easy access to clean, safe water.
"Imagine what it would be like if you were thirsty and had to walk two miles to get a drink of water," she instructs. "Then, when you got there, the water is polluted. Drinking it will make you sick, but you're so thirsty that you don't care. You're going to drink it anyway."
For many, these decisions are part of daily life. "The number one killer of children under five," King teaches, "is diarrheal diseases from dirty and contaminated water."
"Or imagine stepping in your shower tomorrow morning and the water burning your skin," she continues, "not because it is hot, but because the water is contaminated," as some Native Americans in the United States have experienced.
It is important for each of us to be aware of clean, safe water we have, and remember others near and far who do not have easy access to that gift.
Global Heath of the United Methodist Committee on Relief and the Climate Justice mission focus of the United Methodist Women are great resources for national and global involvement.
Lee also encourages people to look locally. "We want people to see if there's water scarcity or if water quality is an issue where they live," she teaches. Call the local water authority, mayor's office, public works department, or local environmental group to find out.
"These are some things we can do, and most are almost painless," King concludes, "but it keeps us in the game and it keeps us aware, which is a much better place to be than being unaware and having a crisis come up and wonder, 'Oh wait. How did that happen?'"
This feature was originally published on August 10, 2017.
Additional resources: The United Methodist Women offer wonderful resources to help leaders conduct meetings in more environmentally responsible ways. Individuals can also apply many of those principles to our private lives, especially in the area of water stewardship.