Water is a caress of God  which you can experience floating down a Massachusetts river, splashing in the waves on a Cape Cod beach, or gulping a cool drink on a hot summer day. In most years, Massachusetts is blessed with abundant water supplies. However, although droughts are a natural part of the climate in the northeast, they vary significantly yearly and by location.
US Drought MapPope Francis writes that access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights.” Water, as a precious part of the material universe “…speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us.” Climate change has already altered our precipitation patterns, so now our rain comes in heavier downpours and more often. Most climate predictions suggest that we may face even more frequent droughts in the future. Thus, part of our duty as stewards of God’s creation is to use our water wisely.
Pope Francis reminds us that “water supplies used to be relatively constant, but now in many places demand exceeds the sustainable supply, with dramatic consequences in the short and long term.”
Water supplies in Massachusetts vary significantly by region. The MWRA supplies Boston and much of Eastern Mass from the Quabbin Reservoir, the Wachusett Reservoir and the Ware River. While most of the rest of the state is supplied primarily through ground water. As demand for water continues to grow, we will strain our water supplies in many years, in spite of its abundance on earth.
Parish and School Actions for Water Conservation
Parishes and Schools have many different uses of water including bathrooms, kitchens, laundries and locker rooms. Rectories are essentially large homes with all of the functions of any home and therefore the ideas in the Family actions section are highly applicable.
The landscape footprint of schools and churches are much large than a typical home and as such is a great opportunity for improvement. Changes is these areas can also be an opportunity to lead by example for the entire community.
Reduce indoor water use
An effective way to conserve water in high-traffic areas is to make conservation “automatic” so that the plumbing does the work. This can be done by “retrofitting” high-use plumbing fixtures such as toilets and faucets with low-flow fixtures. For church and school lavatories, install faucets with infrared sensors that turn off automatically after a few seconds. Additionally, low-flow toilets, dual flush toilets, and waterless urinals are effective ways to reduce water use and are easily installed. Some communities in Massachusetts offer rebates for low-flow toilet retrofits.
In the rectory, as with most homes, most water use occurs in the bathroom. In fact, the toilet and shower are the biggest water users. Water sensing toilets and plumbing fixtures can help reduce water use significantly. Also, a leaking or running toilet can waste a tremendous amount of water. Make sure to have the toilet and other fixtures checked periodically for leaks. You can actually do this yourself by adding food coloring to the tank. If color appears in the bowl after 30 minutes, your toilet is leaking. A leaking toilet can waste 200 gallons per day. Lastly, water-saving shower heads and short showers go a long way to keeping water use low!
In the rectory kitchen, use the dishwasher only when it is full. Don’t pre-wash the dishes unless you have an older dishwasher (newer ones don’t require pre-washing). For the school or church kitchen consider purchasing an energy and water efficient commercial dishwasher.
Using less water on outdoor landscaping can make an enormous difference. In the Worcester region, water use increases by 25% in the summer as homes and businesses turn on the sprinklers, mostly for watering lawns. Lawns are typically the biggest water user in any landscape. However, by practicing “xeriscaping,” i.e. planting low-water use plants, your parish outdoor water use can be greatly reduced. For more information on water-wise landscaping, see the theme on Landscaping.
Use rain barrels
Rooftops are great ways to collect water into rain barrels. In a typical Massachusetts spring and summer, 5 inches of rain on an average-sized, 1,000 square -foot roof would yield more than 3,000 gallons of rainwater, and church roofs are usually much bigger than that. Rain barrels are one way to conserve water and reduce pollutants from running off to local streams, rivers, and ponds. Collected water can be used for outdoor tasks such as watering gardens or lawns, washing cars, and doing other household chores. In Massachusetts, there are many local rain barrel resources and distributors, including some local governments who help homeowners. MassDEP has compiled a bulk of information on obtaining or making your own rain barrels.
Did you know?
In Boston, the average daily water use per person is 40 gallons per person per day. In Phoenix, Arizona, it is about 115 gallons per person per day. The differences are mostly related to outdoor water use! A recent report from the U.S Government Accountability Office revealed that water managers in all but 10 states expect water shortages within the next decade. Fundamentally, we are all in this together and as a society, we can prevent global droughts by committing to water conservation, in both home and industry.