Don’t even think about taking my water

Surely you’ve heard the phrase, “I'll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands,” or at least you’ve seen a variation of it on a bumper sticker. Some folks feel the same about their water.

In a recent survey conducted by the University of Florida Center for Public Issues Education, or PIE Center, participating Floridians revealed that they value water almost as much as they do money and their health. Just don’t ask them to cut their showers short.

An online survey of 516 Floridians found that interest in water ranked third in a list of public issues, just behind the economy and health care, but ahead of taxes and public education. Eighty-three percent of respondents considered water a highly or extremely important issue.

And, as has been shown in previous surveys, the public has varying amounts of tolerance when it comes to reducing their personal water consumption to enhance conservation. While 75 percent of survey respondents said they would wait until their dishwasher is full to turn it on, 47 percent said they would not put a timer in the bathroom to help remind them to shorten their shower.

The survey also found that Floridians reported low overall knowledge about some water-related current events, despite extensive media coverage. These events include last fall’s decline in commercial oyster production in Apalachicola Bay, and a lawsuit filed by Florida officials this past October over the state of Georgia’s consumption of fresh water from a river that helps support Florida’s oyster industry.

This isn’t an issue that’s going away, not for any of us. On the heels of the Florida survey came a study from NASA predicting that droughts in the U.S. Southwest and Central Plains during the last half of this century could be drier and longer than conditions seen in those regions in the last 1,000 years. These so-called “megadroughts” could last from 30 to 35 years.

The study is based on projections from several climate models, including one sponsored by NASA. The research found continued increases in human-produced greenhouse gas emissions drives up the risk of severe droughts in these regions.

The Southeast has been fortunate not to have experienced a drought on the same scale as those in the West and Southwest, but there’s no guarantee we won’t at some point in the future. In the meantime, state legislators here continue to debate water use regulations, hopefully with an eye towards our neighbors to the west and to the dire consequences of short-sighted policy-making.

One day soon, shorter showers may be the worst of our water worries.

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