Water Scarcity Changes How People Think: Lacking money makes people focus on the present—but lacking water makes them plan for the future.

A recent opinion piece in Scientific American by Thomas Talhelm and Hamidreza Harati piqued my interest in reflecting on how humans think about water scarcity. This article does a tremendous job at layering in a quantitative hat-tip to this long-accepted concept that scarcity makes people focus on the present, and provides evidence that water scarcity is an exception to this norm. Where you find a lack water, you will find people focusing on long-term water planning. 

Anthropological and sociological assessments frequently reference the human gravity towards bodies of water: natural ports, food resources, transportation, more temperate climates, and of course, water. All vital ingredients for a thriving society. So how can we remind everyone that water scarcity is a real issue regardless of the supply available to them personally?

The world’s waterways are hardly relics of what they once were. Water is piped, pumped, and moved thousands of miles at a time to support our explosive population growth and industrial demands. In the U.S., rivers have run dry, reservoirs are hitting dead pool, and diminished access to potable water has become a resident news headline. The complexity is compounded by climate change and as we look directly into our current state – there is too much water where it shouldn’t be (and unpredictably so) and too little water where it should be. The world’s water is everybody’s water and it is becoming increasingly harder to access, and while we are the ones responsible for the problem, we are also the ones who are capable of the solution.

The draconian quandary is, “There will be no today to enjoy if we don’t consider the water for tomorrow, so what to do?” Solution levers include wasting less, making more, using wisely, and reusing more. While all levers need to be utilized for the most effective water stewardship, baby steps can be taken. Water reclamation, water desalination, gray water reuse, and high-efficiency fixtures are three proven levers, but what about wasting less? Behavioral modifications exist (shorter showers, less green lawns) but what about monitoring our nonhuman consumers  (fixtures)? 

I feel strongly that we need accountability that these critical systems are working as intended.

Solutions are emerging in stride to address exactly this piece of the puzzle; these are solutions that allow anyone to use (waste) less water without changing behavior. Leading the pack in multifamily and hospitality properties is Sensor Industries. Through data-hardened modeling, Sensor Industries has zeroed in on toilets as the public enemy of indoor water waste. The Water Research Foundation data confirms that toilets are the #1 source of indoor household use. 

In the most extreme cases, I’ve seen the waste as high as 30%. But it doesn’t have to be this way. An elegant, connected solution provides real-time and actionable analytics on any tank toilet at a property: 

  • Which toilet is leaking?
  • Where is it?
  • How bad is the leak?
  • How might it be fixed?

That brings me back to the source of inspiration from this article… Anybody deserves the chance to live in the moment but everybody is responsible for making sure there is water available for us to do that tomorrow, too. This begins with creating accountability in our built environment – whether that is apartments, hotels, senior living, or student housing – one commercial property at a time.