Swales Final Project

Implementation of Swales at Ithaca College

by Chris Gordon, Lauren Krug, and Jenny Moore

For our final project we decided to construct a series of swales at the Organic Garden on campus. We chose the Organic Garden because they have been experiencing problems when it comes to water on their site. The garden is located at the bottom of a slight hill and water from campus runs down that hill and collects in the garden, making it very wet most of the time.

To help with their problem, we planned and constructed two swales above the garden. A swale is a type of earthworks that is a slight depression that runs with the contour of the land and is level along its length. They can be deep or shallow, or even under gravel and turned into a path. Another reason we chose swales is that they are a great alternative landscaping method that reduces runoff by capturing water in the berm and storing it. In other words, swales slow, spread, and sink water.

Another goal of our project was to foster sustainable behavior and do a public presentation of our work. The behavior we wanted to promote was capturing run-off water in the ground for use instead of the typical practice of getting water off-site as soon as possible, to keep it from eroding the landscape and pooling. Our target audience for this behavior was the Ithaca College Organic Garden Club and the Ithaca College Grounds Crew.

With any behavior promotion there will be barriers encountered, both physical and metaphorical. One of our challenges was to convey to the grounds crew that building a swale to get water off-site was a better alternative than the sometimes easier method of just digging a diversion ditch. Another barrier was public outreach. We made a work day through the Organic Garden Club, but it was difficult to find a time where everyone could come learn and participate. Therefore our turnout for the workday was minimal.

To build a swale, one needs to start at the top of their watershed, where the water begins it’s journey down the landscape and assess where the best place would be to build a swale. Once you’ve decided on the place, it is important to measure the contour lines of the area you have chosen. We did this using a water level. Then you begin to dig the swales, making sure they are staggered to allow for overflow. It is always best to make them bigger rather than smaller. The top of the berm needs to be level and compacted, but the basin does not need to be compacted but does need to be level. We made one end of our bottom swale slightly off contour to allow the water to flow off-site.

The formulas we used in calculating the measurements of our swale were as follows:

Area = 1/2 x Width x Depth

Volume of water – holding capacity = Area x Length

Volume = 1/2 x Width x Length x Depth

The calculations for our swale were: Water Holding Capacity= 3675 in3 = 306.25 ft3

We then planted winter rye seeds on the berm of each swale so that when they grow their roots will anchor the berm together and prevent erosion as well as store water even further in the berm.

The results for our swales were that they were effective for the most part. The night after our workday it heavily rained which filled the basins with water. The swales held the water in place except for one part that got slightly washed out which we repaired.

Our plans for the future include ensuring the basins are level so water drains properly from the site and possibly building two more swales above the existing two. We also plan to monitor and maintain the swales which would involve more encouragement of participation from the Organic Garden.

A big thanks to Karryn, the IC Organic Garden, IC Grounds Crew, and Brad Lancaster (author of “Rainwater Harvesting”).

Implementation of Swales At Ithaca College


My Journey with Water Footprint Calculators: Useful tools or totally inaccurate?

To analyze my water footprint, I used 6 different water foot-print calculators ranging from “short” calculators to ones that were pretty detailed. According to these calculators, my daily water consumption ranged from 200 to 1000 gallons of water a day, and two of them both said I used exactly 595 gallons of water a day. Well, 200 and 1000 gallons of water a day are a huge difference, but for the purposes of reflecting on my water footprint, I will assume I used 595 gallons a day since two of the calculators came to that figure, and it is close to the middle of 200 and 1000. If I add up and average these results, I use on average 672 gallons of water a day, or 243,353 gallons a year. Whoa! 600 gallons of water is like this fish tank TIMES 6!!

I try to be environmentally conscious, but when looking at how huge my water footprint is, I feel as if I am not doing enough at all to reduce my impact on the planet. Ever since I was about 10 I’ve had the idea of “Leave No Trace” taught to me through camping experiences. I love the idea of “Leave No Trace”, but knowing that my carbon footprint and water footprint is so large, it makes me feel as if I am going out into the woods and dumping trash and cutting down trees, even though I’m not. Knowing I consume about 600 gallons of water a day scares me! Where the heck is all that water coming from? People in other countries use only a fraction of that water per day, but it is often not by choice. Often those people just don’t have access to clean water and, due to poverty, consume very little resources. But is it entirely my choice as well to consume the amount I do?

I was raised as an urban upper-middle class American by my average American parents. Water flowed freely from faucets and I was brought up to use as much of it as I wanted because it “pretty much costs nothing”. I was never taught about the environmental costs of a gallon of water until I was older, and by then I already had my habits of consumption ingrained very deeply.  Ever since I was about 16 and I really wanted to make a difference for the environment as a whole, I’ve tried to reduce my consumption greatly, but society makes this so hard. For example: One way I can greatly reduce my carbon and water footprint is to stop buying new clothes. For the last few years I have bought a lot of clothing second hand, because I know that just one cotton t-shirt requires 2700 liters (this nalgene is just ONE liter)of water to produce. If I really wanted to be conscious I would stop buying new clothes together, and wear what I already have even if the clothes might be a little ragged or completely out of style, but then I think people (society) would judge me. We all want to be accepted, and to be accepted and considered “normal” in this society, we must consume what everyone else expects us to consume and on a regular basis. Gandhi said, “you must be the change you want to see in the world”, but is the average American girl, like me, going to stop showering and wearing fashionable clothing? Probably not. I feel as if every time I push towards living a more sustainable life, society pushes me back. American society must change as a whole, and I think that a growing awareness of environmental issues we face today, such as the immense stress  that is placed on world water supplies, could really help. Even though I do not think water footprint calculators are completely accurate, I do believe they are an invaluable tool for awareness and self-reflection.

I think it is incredibly important to know what your water foot-print is, even if you find it out from an online calculator. When someone thinks about how much water they use per day they probably think, “Well, I drank a few glasses of water, did my laundry, took a shower, flushed the toilet and washed my hands. That can’t be too much, right?” What I would have to say to that is “Well, there is a lot more than just those factors which determine how much water you consume a day! Try out a water usage calculator, and you will see!” Before I became aware of the many environmental issues we face in our world today, I never realized how much of an impact I have indirectly on the environment. The food you eat each day and the products you buy are two really important factors to consider when calculating a water footprint. It is important for people to know that everything they consume, including food and material goods, has its own water footprint, which feeds directly into their own. If everyone knew that it takes as much as 2,500 gallons of water to produce just one pound of beef, or that producing one cup of coffee takes 100 more gallons of water than one cup of tea, maybe they would reconsider their consumption habits. But we do have to remember that we are creatures of habit, and I personally have yet to replace my morning coffee with tea.

At least there already is a growing awareness of this concept of a “water footprint”. Even Facebook has their own water footprint application, and this is great because billions of people use Facebook and its applications every day. But I do not trust water footprint calculators give an accurate figure on the number of gallons of water I consume per day, especially since I got so many different results from the calculators. I think this is because there are just too many factors which go into finding the correct number. One of the problems with my own water usage calculations, is that I am living in a dormitory and eat almost all my meals in a cafeteria. This means I don’t cook or wash my own dishes, clean the bathroom, or choose what type of energy is used to heat the buildings or provide electricity. I looked for a calculator which asked what type of living space you occupy, as this can vary from apartments to single family homes. So how do I get an accurate number? If I measured out exactly how many ounces of grain and vegetables I eat a day and accounted for every last piece of clothing or product I buy, and then figured out the water footprints for those, and then figured out how much water is used to create the energy I consume, maybe I could get a pretty accurate figure. But this would be so hard and tedious and really have no point. The important thing to know is where the majority of my water consumption comes from, and then try to make changes there. I really liked the water footprint calculator from National Geographic


because it tells you exactly where all your water consumption is coming from, and then the totals. A cute little duck guides you through the interactive calculator, and each time you answer a new question there is a caption above it which explains why they are asking that question. For example they ask how much poultry you consume, and explain that they are asking this because one pound of poultry requires about 1,600 gallons of water to make. If the average Joe uses this five minute calculation, he can learn a lot of facts about water consumption, and then become more aware! It even has numerous tips for ways to reduce your level of water consumption. This calculator said I used 1300 gallons of water per day, which is below the average American. The reason I am below average is that I am a vegetarian. Interestingly enough, I became a vegetarian to try and lessen my impact on the environment. I’m glad it works! Looking at the results from these calculators, I would say the most important questions they ask include how much meat and food you consume, how much water you consume by showering and doing laundry, etc, and how much money you spend on goods each year. The amount of money you spend each year is very important because it allows the calculator to estimate the amount of water you are consuming indirectly through consumerism, by say buying the latest pair of true religion jeans.

Now that I know my water footprint, I am going to try and eat less dairy and continue shopping at second-hand stores (where I have found pairs of true religion jeans for a third of the original price). I’m going to post the national geographic water footprint calculator on my Facebook so hopefully some of my friends will take it, and I can spread awareness!

Artist Statement

Below is the link to my artist statement of my video art “What does Water mean to you?” which can be found under “boxes” on my facebook page.


water assignment artist statement

-Shaileen McKenna


Water YOU Waiting For?

This gallery contains 4 photos.

Presentors: Alyce Daubenspeck, Shaileen McKenna, Emily Taugner When/Where: Taughannock Falls Room in Campus Center @ 7pm on Wednesday Dec. 1st, 2010 PURPOSE/GOAL: To educate volunteer audience members on water conservation and quality information on both  the global and local scale. … Continue reading

Artist’s Statement- The NEW American Dream


“A New American Dream”

I chose to create a poem for my original work. There are many ways to convey the course material in dramatic form. I knew that a song may end up being too kitschy, and that inevitably, I would end up (subconsciously) copying someone else’s tune. I chose a poem because it is something I really enjoy doing. The actual process of arranging the words (especially in a rhyming poem such as this) is a challenge, but I enjoy a challenge.

I chose to speak to an audience of people I can understand- Americans. Having grown up in America, (Pennsylvania to be exact) I have the understanding of culture and behavior that someone from another country or society might not be able to fully grasp. This is the same reason that I did not try to tackle in the poem all of the world’s water issues, because, truth be told, I can’t relate to or understand these problems as much as I can the practices and logic that define my own country’s relationship to water. Also, I firmly believe that to make a difference you musts tart with your own behaviors, and then advocate to/for/with people that you can relate. You must help to ameliorate the unsustainable conditions of an area that you are familiar with, because with this experience, there is unmatched knowledge and understanding.

Choosing Americans as an audience was also important to me, because I feel that America specifically is one of the countries causing the greatest negative impact on the world’s water, and is also one of the countries most apathetic about it. I can relate- I grew up seeing water as a commodity, as an ingredient, a tool and as recreation. There was not much room to see water as more than something that comes out of the hose. Now, with my experiences at Ithaca College, and especially in this class, I am beginning to understand just how much I was not aware of about water’s role in the world. Through this ever-increasing understanding of the gravity of water’s situation on earth and humans’ role in that problem, I was inspired to write this piece about America’s general view of water.

I tried to convey in this poem a sort of logical flow of issues related to water. I open the poem with a stanza about the universality of water- a concept that is of primary importance to understand. Without understanding the vast role of water on earth (i.e. it is absolutely necessary to any and all life forms), the reader may not be able to grasp the immediacy and relevance of the following topics.

By repeating the term “water” in the beginning of the poem, it not only solidifies the topic of the poem into the reader’s mind, but creates the beginning of a flow, that would later be interrupted (much like how water flows in the modern world).

After discussing the importance of water, I delve more in depth as to what this means. These next three stanzas or so help to paint a picture into the readers mind and illustrate, rather than explain to the reader, practical imagery of the subject matter.  I find this strategy particularly important, because (at least for me) examples mean twice as much to me as descriptions ever could.

Then starting with the “But lo” stanza I tried to create a mood change. Fresh off of reading about the various roles of water one earth and thus highlighting the importance of this water to us and the planet, the reader now reads about several issues we learned about in class. These issues include, but are not limited to; water as a commodity verses human right; disposable water bottles; “hard” development; water extraction; pollution in relation to water quality; the concept of a water footprint; permaculture and earthworks; watersheds as “basins of relations”; and water quality in other countries.

After this information, I present the reader with a challenge to make a difference. I introduce certain green strategies and technologies to provide the reader with ideas and information on how they can go about making lasting change.

That is the overall goal of this piece, after all; to educate and thus empower and inspire the reader to act in more sustainable and water friendly ways.

The visual component to this piece is a PowerPoint containing different pictures that were carefully chosen to help convey different messages. The pictures will not only create a lasting memory and speak on their own to the audience, but will also help to explain an points in the poem that were hazy because of syntax. Plus, I am a very visual person, and I think you’ll agree that pictures can make or break a piece.

Well I hope you enjoy this piece- it is something that is important to me.

My Water Creed- Alyce!

How to sum up all of the complex nuances of my beliefs and experiences in a single post?  Where to start? Well, I guess let’s start at the beginning, the source, the pond scum of my own personal evolution, if you will.. I grew up in a little town called Nazareth, in eastern Pennsylvania. My life was like that of many others in that suburban, lower-middle

Not an uncommon sight around my household growing up...

working class region. Days were spent in school, nights playing in the yard or local woods with my sister and neighbors, and every Sunday we went to church. It was pretty much your standard Norman Rockwell kind of stuff. This was a very water-rich, very humble and very reluctant to change or anything radical- a sort of living page of history. My worldview was such that I believed that water was just sort of an infallible resource. It was always there, anyway. I used to play in sprinklers, take swimming lessons, and play with water balloons

A creek I would have thought to be the perfect playground!

with my sister and friends. Most notably, I spent a disproportionate amount of time in creeks when I was growing up, a love I developed from my Pappy the expert outdoorsman. It was a blast! Now I realize, it was sort of an ill-informed way to grow up. No one ever mentioned that the creeks that I spent probably whole weeks of my childhood in were dumping grounds for raw sewerage, or the sites of pesticide runoff. I always thought that water just kind of was untouchable and that unless you could see the pollution, it wasn’t there. (Think plastic bottles and soda cans). Water, to my small town friends and me anyway, was equal parts utility and recreation- something to use to our advantage.  If I needed a drink, I just went to the spigot. If I needed a shower, I just got in the tub. Clean, cheap water was always available to me, so I never really felt like it was really a concern for anyone. I used to believe the world was some kind of weird, disjointed collage of different lands and places. I saw pictures in magazines that corroborated this evidence. This view allowed for me to harbor my belief of the infallibility of water. To me, the world could fall neatly into two categories: the human world, and everywhere else. The first and most recent shift in my worldview happened when I started coming to Ithaca College, and specifically taking the class “Environmental Sentinels” with Jed Jordan and Tim Drake. This class taught me about how “nature” is not something that is just a forest in an issue of National

A Sentinels Class in action!

Geographic, or some destination. I believe “Nature” is everywhere, everyone and everything. This laid the foundation for my emerging worldview that would not center around a divide between the natural world and humans, but rather connectivity between all matter on earth. This new realization, and the newly-developed “holistic” view of the world that accompanied it helped to spark my interest in the environment and inspired to learn more about the rest of the wide world that we all live in. Still, I did not have a particular interest in studying water. And maybe that’s because I did really see a need to. Hell, I lived in Pennsylvania and now upstate New York, and if anything, I’d always gotten too much rain. Why would I look into a “problem” I didn’t know existed. It wasn’t until I started to get into this water management class that I began to really see the importance of water. At the beginning of this class, I sort of still held this notion about water. I still regularly drank from disposable water bottles. I still sort of believed that water is just a trip to the faucet away, and that it went “away”, when you were done using it. Looking back on this, that seems so silly. After all to my now more-educated self, water is the most important thing on this earth, because without it, we have nothing, and we are nothing, because life COULD NOT EXIST. I religiously drink from reusable water bottles, and I find myself cutting my showers, handwashing, toilet flushing and laundry washing down by immensely. This class has helped me develop a serious sense of urgency and importance when it comes to the idea of water sustainability. How could I have not seen it before? It all just makes SO MUCH SENSE.  Water is this mysterious and always-astounding source of life and hope and refreshment that I can no longer take for granted. This class allows me to appreciate water for all of its forms- not just the aesthetic or utility aspects of it- but for its intrinsic and essential value to this planet and thus, my life. How does this developing new waterview affect my worldview? I believe that in this earth, we only have now. It is what we should focus on, because the future is so uncertain, and the past is now another land. Past and future are merely fleeting glimpses and traces of what we do have- and that is the present. That’s why I believe the present is the only thing worth fighting for, because that is what we have and will always have- literally, until the day we die. Although I believe in the present, I don’t really entertain a material worldview. I don’t really believe in any religion or afterlife- but that doesn’t mean that I’m not spiritual. I believe in spirituality- but probably  not in what most would define as the traditional sense. I believe that spirituality is something not in books or in seminaries or in a church. It is also not some greater goal we seek to achieve. Spirituality to me is the bond of human to his or her environment. My need

Human Spirit

for inspiration is met in this belief. The bond of man to his world- both the living and nonliving is the true measure of spirituality. I don’t necessarily mean the bond between me and a tree, although that is part of it. I classify the environment as well, EVERYTHING. That’s right- I believe the environment can be anything from the forests of Siberia to your body to your relationships with people and the world. EVERYTHING IS INTERCONNECTED, because we are made of essentially the same stuffs. We are of carbon, nitrogen, ash and most importantly, water. I believe that man has what he has and knows what he knows. Happiness and enlightenment are attainable within this lifetime.  I believe they are states of mind moreso than achievements. My need for security is met when I remember that happiness is a choice,and not so much a situation. You can always choose to be happy, much like you can choose anything else in this lifetime. It starts with a smile. I believe that even if you were in the most dire of situations, I mean the truly most God-awful straits, you can be happy. God, enlightenment, and thus freedom are found in everyday moments that we too often take for granted. From one of my favorite Broadway shows AIDA, I always refer back to this quote; “Nothing is an accident. We are free to have it all. We are what we want to be- it’s in ourselves to rise or fall.” This resonates with me as sort of an inspiration to stick to my beliefs, even when this is difficult- especially in the case of water use. SO how does this seemingly nebulous array of factoids about myself and my ever-changing , and ever-flowing (much like water!) worldview relate to a water creed? Several key factors helped me to shape my current water creed. This class has helped me to answer the question “Where is away?” The solution is tricky- nowhere! There is no away. Once I made this connection about (what else?) connectivity between our habits and the quality

Let's Keep Water "Green"!

of water, and thus the quality of life for us and thus the rest of life on earth, things began to change. I am now very interested in permaculture and agriculture. I entertain a notion of water as a right that all must cherish and share. It is not a commodity, but a necessity. Never before have I held such a high regard for cooperation as I do now as I do for an issue such as this- water access and quality. I will do my part to minimize the water I use (even when things like modern plumbing and low-efficiency washers make this sort of thing difficult). I will maintain shorter showers and spend less time doing laundry.  I know that living in a dorm puts me at sort of a disadvantage sustainability-wise, but it also opens a lot of doors for creativity and collaboration with my peers. I have learned to focus more on design and creativity than the negative. I have learned to know the facts, but then take a part in these issues to help develop more sustainable solutions. Above all, since taking this class, I am inspired to really make a difference in this world and to keep learning about the world, and most importantly- water.

My Watershed

So my home in Central Valley, NY has watersheds at 4 different levels

1)    My Land Plot (Micro)

2)    My Road (Micro)

3)    Hudson-Wappenger (Meso)

4)    Hudson River (Macro)

Each watershed has its own problems no matter how small.  For example, while on the micro end of a watershed a small stick may divert water a few feet to the left causing erosion which could possibly kill some plant matter and have a devastating effect on the plant life in the immediate area, but on the macro scale of a watershed (the biggest level of observation) that one little stick will not cause any noticeable problems.  Problems on the Macro scale tend to be large pollution problems or major flooding.  In order to look at and determine different watersheds you first need a basic understanding of water literacy.  Water literacy is knowing where your water comes from, and where it goes. The basic idea is simple but if you think about it where exactly does your water come from?

So for my smallest watershed I chose my lad plot.  I thought this was interesting because the land my house lives in sorta pops out with this large, flat, circle which my house resides on.  But all around that my yard is a convex curve of varying degrees.  We have some large problems with my watershed though.  Every fall we run into flooding problems because the way my house was built it is in the middle of the major down slope, with my driveway right above it.  This causes water to come down the hill, rush across the paved driveway and ever so slowly has been eroding away at my porch.  Some other problems are the water is very prone to eroding vast amounts of gravel from our stone driveway.  When there is a large rainstorm, we spend the next few days trying to get all the gravel out of my mom’s gardens, and the front yard.   While at the time it doesn’t seem like a problem, but I can tell you first had that there is nothing more painful that mowing the lawn and having rocks shoot up at you and literally take chunks out of your leg.  Another problem is that we commonly get water on our garage floor because some idiot didn’t level it and it slightly slopes the opposite way of the natural slope.  This causes little ponds of water to form in the dirt, which if not properly swept away causes large mosquito problems, and we believe that the in large is part of the mold problem in my garage.  From my yard all of the water flows downhill towards my road, where the ditches are commonly overflowing and leads to my next watershed.

On a larger macro scale is my road, Summit Ave.  I chose this as my 2nd level of watershed because the way my road is set up, it kind of looks like a valley with the road at the bottom of it.  All of the water from mine, and my neighbor’s water run onto this road, which it’s self goes down the hill until it hits Route 32 (the main road in my town).  At the bottom of the road is the main problem in this level of watershed.  Since there is so much water coming down this hill during a rain event it is extremely prone to flooding.  About twice a year this entrance of the road is closed do to major flooding.  There have been steps made to help eliminate this problem, but they have only progresses as far as putting in larger storm drains at the bottom, which I will admit helps a lot, but when they get clogged up (which the commonly do with sticks and leaves and trash) no one cleans them and we go back to flooding problems.  Another problem on this micro level of view is erosion.  My road is very steep because the way my neighborhood was built, they just kept on building uphill because that was the cheapest and easiest way to build.  Because the hill is so steep the water runs down the drains and the road at a very fast pace, I’ve seen my little neighbor (when she was 10) get swept over after trying to play in the drain.  This rapid pace has eroded away at the ditches and in many places has completely eroded them away.  Where this has happened the water has continued to erode away at the dirt that was covered by asphalt but is now exposed.  And in some places the erosion has gotten so bad that the water has begun to erode pieces out of the road.  From this road all of the water goes into the storm sewers and is piped into a nearby creak which in turn flows into Wappinger Creek, which flows into the Hudson River.

On the meso scale my watershed is the Hudson-Wappenger watershed.  The water in this water shed comes from all over the Hudson Valley.  It includes 6 different counties and includes cities like Newburgh, and West Point Military Academy.  This section of the Hudson River is where there was major damage done to this river, making it part of the 200 miles of polluted water, which in turn makes it the 33rd most polluted river in the United States.  In this part of the watershed there is a large problem with rising levels of nitrate, sulfate, and ammonium.  The rising levels of ammonium are believed to be from low pH levels, which was caused by atmospheric deposition (acid rain).  This has caused fish survival/propagation impairments in one of the larger lakes in the area, Upper Twin Lake.  There are also reports of high phosphorous and cadmium levels in this watershed, and according to the EPA website, it us unknown what the source of these contaminants are. The water from this watershed either flows directly into the Hudson River, on flown in through one of the major tributaries such as Fall Creek.

The Hudson River is the 33rd most polluted river in the country.  The two main culprit’s in this are contaminants such as PCB’s (Polychlorinated buphenyl’s) and DDT (a now banned pesticide). General Electric (GE) manufacturing facilities at Hudson Falls and Fort Edward discharged between 209,000 pounds and 1,300,000 pounds of PCBs into the river between 1947 and 1977. The PCBs caused extensive contamination of fish in the river. PCB’s and DDT can be very harmful to humans, especially pregnant woman. If pregnant woman were to eat contaminated fish from the Hudson River it will greatly increase the likelihood that her child is to be born with birth defects. These contaminants are also known to cause damage to the nervous system, immune system, and the reproductive system. The toxic chemicals also accumulated in sediments that settled to the river bottom; giving the river it’s murky brown appearance.  The Hudson River is also an important source of drinking water for a vast amount of the people in New York.  Working with the Catskill Watershed, the two watersheds deliver 1.4 billion gallons of water a day to the 9 million people living in New York City, Westchester, Orange, and Putnam Counties.  The lower part of the Hudson River is actually a tidal estuary, which according to the Random House Dictionary is, a partially enclosed coastal body of water, having an open connection with the ocean, where freshwater from inland is mixed with saltwater from the sea.  This means that in the winter the ice can flow in both directions causing the harbor part to become extremely difficult to navigate.  The Mahican had a special name for the river, they called it the Muh-he-kun-ne-tuk or “the river that flows both ways.”  From the Hudson River, the water flows directly into the Atlantic River.


— The second part of this assignment was the water walk around.  Because I am in Ithaca and have not been able to walk around my home watershed I decided to walk around Ithaca College in the rain, which isn’t to hard because as of lately it seems to always be raining.  One o the first things tat I notices about the water that I don’t think I have ever noticed about the rain before is the way that each raindrop falls.  I never noticed that none of them fall at the same time.  As stupid as that sounds it was a really surprising realization that I had.  While walking around I ended up near the public safety building where I noticed the water eroding away at the gravel on the side of the building.  When I usually walk by there, it is nice and flat, but because it was pouring there was a very high flow, concentrated flow of water coming down from the service road.  This stream caused much of the gravel to erode leaving a ditch about a foot deep alongside the building.  As I stood their and watched the hole slowly got wider and deeper until it hit the side of the building and was confined to eroding one side of the road.  Another thing that took me by surprise was the way that water actually flows over the landscape.  Looking at it closely brings a certain excitement to my eyes that can’t be describes in words.  The way that they water always finds the lowest point is amazing, while it is obvious take a closer look at water flowing over the grass, it doesn’t flow over it, it flows around the separate blades of grass, weaving this way and that.

I was looking at a stream neat the Circle Apartments and I noticed how when at high enough velocities the water flows right over the rocks, forming what looks like a clear protective barrier, and when you put your finger in the middle of it, it separates and a wave like formation forms against your hand.  The water briefly splits down stream, but eventually it forms again.  And while bent over observing this is the point in which my camera fell out of my pocket, ruining it for all eternity.  I had some cool pictures of the water flowing but now they are all gone.


My Water Challenge

For this assignment, I focused mostly on tracking my shower time. I feel that I am very water-conscious in most areas of my life (dish washing, flushing my toilet only when needed, hand washing, etc) except for my weakness of taking longer-than-necessary showers. My focus was mainly on assessing my shower time patterns to see how I can best reduce my shower time in the future rather than trying to cut back cold-turkey.

If my efforts are successful, I will be able to save money on my water and heating bills for the rest of my life. Any roommates I may have in the future would hopefully share this goal with me, even if s/he isn’t as concerned about conserving water from an environmental standpoint. As long as the end result does common good, I suppose it doesn’t matter quite so much what means were used to get there.


Day 1 – Wednesday, October 27th. This morning, I had the no-longer-quite-so-unique experience of having no hot water in my apartment. Of course, I didn’t realize this fact until I was already in the bathroom setting the stopwatch on my phone to track how long it took me to shower. Luckily the water was still slightly lukewarm and not frigid like it normally is when out hot water goes out, so I was able to take a rather uncomfortable yet manageable shower that lasted approximately 5 minutes and 11 seconds (the actual recorded time was 5:41, but I factored in 30 seconds for getting in and out of the shower and toweling off). I was pleased that I was able to wash myself so quickly, even if it was just the basic one-shampoo, one-conditioner and a quick face and armpit wash.

Day 2 – Thursday, October 28th. Today I didn’t shower, as is my general routine to shower only once every other or every third day (there was also still no hot water in my apartment). I noticed that my hair smelled very strongly of chlorine, which was disappointing. By the end of the day my hair looked as though I had not showered in at least two days.

Day 3 – Friday, October 29th. Since my hair smelled even more like chlorine today than it did yesterday, I took a “normal” shower where I didn’t really think too much about how to cut down my shower time. I did feel a little guilty about this, but we finally had hot water and I didn’t want to smell like I had just jumped in a pool anymore. Shower time was approximately 14 minutes and 12 seconds.

Day 4 – Saturday, October 30th. I felt a lot cleaner today, so I didn’t even feel the need to shower!

Day 5 – Sunday, October 31st. There was a lot of stuff going on today so even though I had planned on showering, I didn’t. I tried my best to scrub the Rocky Horror makeup off my face with a wet washcloth and soap and went about my day.

Day 6 – Monday, November 1st. Today was especially cold outside, so I again didn’t want to think much about taking a quick shower where I was in an out by the time I had the chance to warm up. My shower time for today was about 11 minutes and 58 seconds.



As much as I don’t like admitting that I take showers that are almost 15 minutes long, I noticed an interesting fact when looking at my shower times for one week. Over the course of seven days, I took three showers; two were “normal” length and one was forcedly cut short by the lack of hot water in my apartment. When the three shower times are added up and divided by the number of days in the week, it turns out that my average daily shower time is only about 4 minutes 30 seconds per day, which is well below the average for my friends and peers.

One of the ideas I had thought of before starting this project was that maybe if I took a short shower every day rather than a long shower every other or every third day, I would require less time to clean myself. I see now that it actually saves water to follow my normal shower schedule except for one day a week where I take a very quick shower (and then use perfume or baby powder/ corn starch to get the chlorine smell out of my hair).

In order to successfully transition to this new routine, I think that the index cards I taped next to my shower will help to serve as constant reminders that I need to plan for one shower a week to be very basic. Also, I think utilizing my sponge bathing skills for those days when my super short shower just doesn’t cut it will be very useful for my own sanity and the general well-being of those around me.

To reduce water consumption, people need to both find more efficient ways to use their shower time and break away from their shower addictions. I know individuals who routinely spend 20 minutes or more in the shower every single day, simply because they enjoy being in the shower. I love to be surrounded by warmth and cleanliness as much as the next person, but I recognize that there are serious water issues in today’s world that I am not helping by taking unnecessarily long showers.

Another initiative that I believe would help Americans to reduce water consumption is to keep increasing incentives for EnergyStar products. Currently, there are no specifications for maximum water flow for showerheads (the EPA has set the maximum water flow for all residential showerheads at 2.5 gallons/minute at 80 psi). To have good EnergyStar or similarly rated showerheads available would be a significant contribution to water conservation efforts across the US (and hopefully wouldn’t turn out like that episode of Seinfeld where they get low-flow showerheads installed in their apartment building, and they’re so bad that they have to buy “black market showerheads”).

Water conservation is an issue that should constantly be on everyone’s mind, regardless of geographic location, political views, or economic status. Each of us is connected to each other and to our planet, so the greater our understanding of our place in the world and how our lifestyle choices play out, the greater the possibility of living in a fully sustainable and peaceful world.


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My Water Creed: Drink Your Water, Count Your Blessings

My Water Creed:

Drink Your Water, Count Your Blessings

Growing up only one mile from Lake Michigan, I rarely considered the reality of how scarce fresh water is in the world. I can only actually recall one time in my childhood where I couldn’t have as much water as I wanted. One hot summer day when I was about seven years old, I plugged my flower-shaped sprinkler into the hose expecting it to spin around and splash me  with cold water. To my surprise, the plastic flower flopped down producing only a trickle of water. I was really annoyed so  I ran to my dad and asked him why my toy wouldn’t work. He explained that the water pressure was too low to make the flower spin because so many people were using the city’s water due to the immense heat. At that point I probably trudged back into my air-conditioned house, but what I do remember is feeling kind of angry. Looking back on this, it was selfish to be angry even though I did not know any better at the time. How could I be mad that I could not play in water when there are more than one billion people in the world without access to safe drinking water? Growing up I lived in a culture where could have anything I wanted, whenever I wanted it, and I’ll admit I still do.

Now I know resources, especially water, are extremely limited and not distributed equally among the human population, and therefore I should never take a glass of water or warm shower for granted. Although my worldview is far from completely developed at the age of nineteen, I can confidently say it has mostly heavily been influenced by my values regarding the environment and my wish for no one to suffer.  I think sustainability should be incorporated into every aspect of life. I feel disheartened knowing in the near future the earth may be stripped of its natural beauty and the sustenance our planet provides us with.  Before this class I never thought of water conservation as a top environmental concern. My biggest environmental woe has always been plastics, but now I’m starting to think I should place more importance on issues such as water conservation. This issue not only affects people, but the entire earth as a functioning system.

The great disparity in the distribution of fresh water on our planet causes the issue of water scarcity to affect vast amounts of people.  Safe drinking water available on the earth is spread out just as unevenly as wealth is in society. The world is not a fair place, unfortunately.  When I was younger I was naïve enough to think that the solution to a problem such as this, was as easy as filling up jugs of water from my own sink and then sending them to Sub-Saharan Africa. I’ve learned that life’s solutions are never that simple, and providing the water that one billion people just do not have, can be quite complicated. Water issues have great depths and can be approached at from many different angles. But before I address these issues, a question I have for myself is: why do I care? It would be so easy to say, “I have never had to struggle for water or other resources in my life before, so I don’t really care if other people do have to struggle. Their issues aren’t my issue” It is hard to determine where your own values have come from when they have been developing since you were a child. When I was younger I always wanted to help other people, and then when I learned about environmental issues, I wanted to help the environment as well. Is this drive to help other living things something you are born with, or do these values develop over time? I supposed it’s a little of both, and I find that that the values I’ve developed over my life make it so I cannot help but care.

I care deeply about the earth as a whole. This includes every living creature ranging from mammals, to the microscopic nematodes hidden beneath the soil. It took thirteen billion years from the initial creation of the universe for the life on our earth to evolve to its current state.  It has yet to be proven that life has existed, or does currently exist outside of our planet. What if we are the only intelligent form of life in this entire universe? If so, humans would be the only
form of life capable of intense emotions, higher learning and the creation of art. The earth itself is in a delicate balance, and up to about a thousand years ago, the human race did not tip the scales, but were adapted to living with the earth.  Human intelligence allowed for innovations such as agriculture to support a population with a high growth rate. We have evolved to be too smart for our own good. Water, our most vital resource of all, is under great strain as populations grow and water sources aren’t replenished fast enough. If the entire water system is at jeopardy, all life on earth is as well. It saddens me to think that our incredible earth and advanced selves, which took about 13 billion years to create, might not exist a single century from now.

There is a theory which states “that the life expectancy of Industrial Civilization  is less than or equal to 100 years” (Duncan). This quote has helped shaped my worldview because I can see this happening, and that scares me. Although we have been industrialized for a hundred years and have yet to see our demise, I believe there is a strong possibility that society will collapse in on itself. My vision of this collapse is a slow one filled with suffering and death.  Of course the earth has rebounded from five mass extinctions before, but who wants to be a part of the currently developing sixth mass extinction? I sure don’t. Maybe technology will be so developed at this point that people will be able to continue living on earth even after its resources have been depleted and most species diversity is lost, but I definitely do not want to be a part of that earth either. Once we have lost the majority of species on earth, who knows what species will radiate and take over. Giant people-eating dragonflies?

Probably not, but let’s not find out. While people won’t be running away from giant dragonflies in the next 50 years, people in water scarce regions will be racing against each other for the last drops of fresh water.

Currently over one billion people on earth do not have adequate amounts of food or water, and this number is expected to increase greatly in the future. Not only do these people suffer from thirst and hunger, but without clean water, diseases spread rampant and cause even more suffering. It pains me to know that there are people in such great discomfort in the world, even though I cannot actually feel their pain. At times I feel guilty that I can have anything I need, whenever I want, when there are children in the world starving and drinking contaminated water. What is even more disconcerting is that I can, and do, consume even more resources than I would ever need. Why is it that I can simply turn on a faucet and take as much water from it as I want while other people, specifically women, must walk miles each day to collect only as much water as they are capable of carrying?

Ethically, I think it is completely unacceptable that a person cannot have access to a water source just because they cannot pay for it. This situation arises often when water is privatized because the poor end up not being able to afford the water they so desperately need. This degrades their quality of life to a great extent. I strongly believe that water is a fundamental human right, and knowing there are people who are denied water because they are too poor, fuels this belief. The idea of charging people up to thirty percent of their daily wages for access to water is as ridiculous to me as the idea of making a person pay for the amount of air they breathe. Oxygen and water are the two most precious resources a person has. Not only do I feel connected to water as it is essential to my survival, but it amazes me to think I am made up of 66% water. Without water nothing could live, but ironically water has the ability to steal a person’s breath forever. I feel incredibly aware of this after having spent the entire summer life-guarding children and my co-staff.

One day I took my nature class to collect wild, edible greens from a patch of plants right outside the fence of the swimming area, when suddenly the blasts of the emergency whistle pierced my ears and immediately my body filled with adrenalin. I sprinted into the swimming area and formed a dive line with 7 other staff that had already been inside the fenced area. We searched and rescued a 20 foot deep section of the lake knowing that there might be a child drowning in the water. After 10 minutes the search was called off because, thankfully, the child had crawled under the fence to use the bathroom, and had not gotten lost under the lake’s dark blue surface. Once my dive line returned to the shore, we embraced each other sobbing uncontrollably. It was a sobering moment, and looking back, I’ve realized just how much power water has over our lives. Actually having to search in water for a human body, dead or alive, in the lake’s murky depths was one of the rawest, emotional experiences I’ve ever had in my life, and it revolved completely around the incredible forces of water.

I would not exist without water, and at this point in my thought process I want to take a moment to think about how complex and special water is. I find it symbolically beautiful that nobody can own a body of water or the air. The only water a person truly owns is the water within their own body. The reason why I think no one person or thing can own water, is that it belongs to us no more than it does to salmon or trees. Water exists in large bodies, in the ground, in the air and in plants and trees. You cannot claim to own the water in a tree because without water the tree will wither away. That same water which is in a tree will eventually become part of the atmosphere, and then fall back down onto the earth’s surface. A water molecule goes through so many different mediums of nature in a given amount of time, that it would be impossible to claim ownership over say, a lake. The water molecules in a lake probably once belonged to a plant or tree and will eventually seep into the ground to repeat its cycle. How can you own something that is moving throughout all of earth’s systems and could potentially be anywhere at any given time?  And since water flows through the earth as a system, we need to hop on our own little lifeboats and go along for the ride instead of working against the water cycle. Water started flowing and cycling itself, as it does now, millions of years before any plant, fungus or human came to life on this blue planet.

Brack Dolman’s simple mantra, “retain it, not drain it”, has really stuck with me. It makes no sense to drain water down a pipe. Once rain goes down a drain, it is considered “waste”. If this water isn’t even being used by us, why should we take it away from plant life, and  also prevent it from infiltrating the water table? If a plant could talk, it would never call the gift of water a waste product. If I could have it my way, society would shift from using monoculture to permaculture, as this method of producing food is elegantly sustainable. Looking at lemon trees on a mountain in Northern Europe inspired me, and even gave me a vision of a sustainable Utopian society on our very earth. I am tired of being a consumer. A waster.  A hypocrite at times.  I think mass consumption of resources is an illness similar (metaphorically) to the actual disease “consumption”. All the stuff we have will eventually consume us, as mass production leaves the world barren, and we no longer have goods of any sort. Besides joining an alternative society and pretending the rest of the world’s issues don’t exist, what can I do? Coming out of high school I figured the next step was going to Ithaca to study environmental issues from a scientific and cultural perspective, while harnessing the tools I’ll need to advocate for the environmental issues I believe must be addressed. On a more personal level, this enriches my life because I am able to combine my life-long interest for science, with my slightly more recent passion for protecting the earth’s environment. Advocating for, or coming up with, solutions to world water issues will not only keep people’s watersheds healthy, but provide a better standard of life for our fellow man, and this just makes sense to me.

One of the best ways to ensure everything, not just everyone, in the world receives adequate amounts of clean, safe water is to work through policy. Laws determine who has control over resources and how such resources are used, and the government controls these laws. When large groups of people band together with the goal of having a law changed or passed, it can often be done. In places where poor are charged large amounts of money for water, the people should organize themselves and make their voices heard through rallies, demonstrations, protests, and etc. Getting outside media involved is a great way to bring attention to an issue. The larger the number of people who want a change, the more the government will have to listen. Almost no central power wants to deal with a “peasant revolt”, especially when it is over something as basic as water. If you have ever seen the movie Antz,  it is a great example of the little guys getting together and forming a loud voice. Even students can have the power to change the way resources are managed at their own school. When I heard that the students of University of Washington had enough sway to convince the administration to ban plastic water bottles, I thought to myself, “Now why can’t we do something like that here?”  This approach can be used on the global and local scale, and as more individuals care about and join to fight for an issue, the more resources there are to alleviate it.

Sadly, we might never live in a world where everyone has access to safe, clean drinking-water. That is just reality. But it is also a reality that the individual, and especially groups of people, can work towards their own Utopia of sustainability; and the further the world shifts away from my own idea of a sustainable Utopia, the harder I’ll fight to keep earth’s systems functioning healthfully. But one last question I have for myself involves how I plan to move forward now that I’ve stated my values. The thing is stating is different from doing. For starters, I’m never going to stop developing my worldview and values regarding water. This involves a lot of questioning. We need to question ourselves, our peers, the practices that have been in place for years, new technologies, and especially the way in which we communicate our answers to those who are either voluntarily listening, or who can’t help but hear us because we can’t be ignored.  If I did use only as much water as I actually needed, would that translate to an evening in the disparity of water resources in the world? No. No matter how little water I use, there is still going to be a serious lack of water elsewhere. Despite this, I would never consider wasting water because it is as precious as the rarest of stones. I believe water is even more precious because a diamond can never nourish your body. When I’m thirsty and the cold water I drink makes its way through my body, I feel thankful. My own water creed mantra  from now on will be; drink your water, count your blessings.

My Water Footprint

Thinking about calculating my water footprint took me immediately to the internet where there are numerous sites in which you can enter some data about your lifestyle like how many miles you drive in a day or how cool you keep your home during the summer. After putting your entire life into one of these simple calculators, they spit out a number for you to interpret. In my case, the site I used to calculate my current water footprint states that I personally use 1,059.35 gallons per day. On the larger scale, I put in data regarding where I lived, in the dorms, and also I figured in my two roommates and their water behaviors. The three of us as a “household” use about 4,237 gallons per day. Wow, what a number! It was almost embarrassing for me to reach that end result on the calculator because I know how unsustainable it really is. There are so many small tasks throughout the day I do that require water like filling up my water bottle or washing my face in the morning when I wake up, menial tasks that use more water than I realize. I do not really think about the water I am using to complete these tasks because I always have that access to fresh water by just turning on the sink. I do not know where it comes from and I will say with regret that I do not really consider it because it is always just there, my basic right, why would I think more of it? But it is this exact ignorance that puts my water consumption so high in the number of gallons I use everyday. And there is also the water I use indirectly by consuming food like vegetables, fruit and occasionally some meat products that use huge amounts of water for growth and transportation to markets, or in my case the dining hall. My water consumption is driven exceptionally higher due to food consumption, especially when it isn’t locally grown.

I think that every person should take the time to calculate their water footprint because knowing the amount of water I consume per day and also the amount my whole household consumes has led me to start practicing little behaviors I know can bring that number down like taking shorter showers and turning off the water when I brush my teeth. And this is before I even analyze the full situation for what it is worth and put into effect the real large-scale sustainability measure like considering the use of a greywater harvesting system. Now, here at school that would be extremely difficult to implement because I love in dorms owned by the school, but when I own my own home it is definitely the infrastructure I am aiming for to save water.  A greywater harvesting system would allow me to collect the water I use in my home for washing dishes and clothes and the water I shower in or wash my hands and face in. Why not use it to flush my toilets or water my garden or lawn? I do not need 100% fresh water for these activities so why should I waste the energy of obtaining fresh water from a plant to just flush a toilet, dirty things go into it so the water can start out not completely clean and save some energy.

According to peoplepoweredmachines.wordpress.com, “30% of the water used on the East Coast of the U.S. goes towards the watering of lawns. A single golf course in Tampa, Florida uses 178,800 gallons of water every day, enough to meet the daily water needs of over 2,200 people.”

All of that water to just hit a little ball into a little hole…”

Something to take into consideration is the number of calculators there are available on the internet to use. Each one is slightly different than the others and will produce different results for the same person. One might measure your water consumption in kilograms per year rather than gallons. Others are based off of the amount of time it will measure you over, most focus on a one year time period so your number will be quite high compared to those that focus on your consumption in just a single day. They might ask different questions pertaining to what you eat, the difference between being a vegetarian or not is actually quite large, a couple hundred gallons a day and thousands in a single year. I chose to use a calculator that gave me my water consumption in gallons per day, because I thought that would be easiest for me to understand. You must also consider the fact that many calculators will base your results on whether or not there are other people living in your household. For me I factored in my two roommates so my number went up, but there are some that will focus solely on your personal consumption. Do not assume that every calculator is the same and should therefore give you universal results. The amount of water you consume will change, and how the calculator interprets your water use will change. The only important thing is how you personally interpret the results and change your behaviors according to them.

The biggest component of my water footprint was water used for food production. Up until a few days ago I was eating meat, which requires copious amounts of water just for the process of raising the animals to the very end where they are packed and sent off to grocery store shelves. While I was still consuming meat my water footprint was around 1,400 gallons a day, considerably higher than my new daily number the beginning of my paper. Also, any fruits and vegetables I eat account for a lot of water consumption. I think it is safe to say that a lot of people have food production as one of their biggest components on the water footprint. From this experience I have decided to revert back to being vegetarian to cut down on my water consumption from animal raising. I also want to encourage others around me who are concerned about the impact of their water footprint to buy food locally and maybe even cut meat out of their diet one day a week. They would be shocked by the results and how much water they could save with these few simple practices.