World Water Day offers time for reflection and action

Marchella Verdi
March 13, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — On March 22, calendars will say World Water Day. But what does that mean? 

“World Water Day is a reminder that water is a scarce resource and a sacred resource,” explained Paul Shrivastava, Penn State’s chief sustainability officer and director of the Sustainability Institute. “One of the key 17 global sustainability goals is ‘Ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for ALL.’ We in Pennsylvania are blessed with abundance of water. However, our water management and agricultural practices are excessively polluting. According to a recent study, Pennsylvania is not on track to achieve this goal. We need to make clean water a high priority goal statewide.”

An upcoming meeting on March 21 at the University Park campus exploring the environmental and health impacts of a particular group of synthetic chemicals on water aligns with this goal. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which have been used in numerous industrial and consumer products — including nonstick cookware, water-repellent materials, stain- and oil-resistant fabrics, firefighting foams and even some cosmetics — are increasingly showing up in water bodies, with uncertain long-term impacts.

According to Lara Fowler, assistant director of the Institutes for Energy and the Environment, “Pennsylvania is one of the most affected states by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in water, yet we are just learning how widespread of an issue this is, along with the potential health impacts.” 

These and a myriad of other issues impacting water are why World Water Day deserves recognition. 

Among the global Sustainable Development Goals agreed to by more than 190 nations in 2015, goal No. 6 is “Clean Water and Sanitation,” aiming to offer safe access to water and sanitation for all people by 2030. There are four basic steps people can take to start helping the world reach this goal: 

  • Learn — Get familiar with the issues
  • Assess — Assess your own use of water using this tool.
  • Share — Start a conversation about the water crisis and how it affects all aspects of society. 
  • Act — Get involved with larger community actions, such as water-related events.

Those four steps might seem like a lot of work, but think small first. Start by understanding your own water use through the use of this tool:

  • How often do you use water each day?
  • Which activities use the most water?
  • What would happen if you were told you couldn’t have a glass of water? 

If having to think about these things consciously seems like a lot of effort, consider that billions of people worldwide have to devote time and energy to these questions every day, knowing their water is almost never a reliable resource. Check out this video to learn more.  

So, what are some common ways we overuse water? Take just one example. Especially in the winter months, many people look forward to a warm shower. For some of us, time in the shower may be when we think about our day, our weekend plans, or what we want for dinner. But this can lead to showers that are 20 minutes or longer. Looking to cut down that time? Harvard University offers suggestions on how to limit yourself to a five-minute shower. 

Aside from showers, we use water in many other aspects of our lives, whether it be in the kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, or backyards. Check out these 45 ways to conserve water in the home and yard.

Ready to take the next step and get involved in sharing and acting on water issues? Penn State is a great place to do it. Learn more about Penn State’s innovative upgrades to its Water Reclamation Facility, which will reduce groundwater withdrawals by 300,000 to 500,000 gallons per day. Get involved with student and community groups committed to environmental actions that protect water.

In order for there to be change, there needs to be awareness and action. Help in the effort to have clean, accessible water for all by 2030. For more information about World Water Day, click here.

Last Updated March 13, 2019