Climate Action Shoreline: Water Use Wednesdays (Freshwater)

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

By Diane Lobaugh

When our small group of Shoreline neighbors developed a brochure of daily actions to address the climate crisis, we included a day to think about how we use water.

Freshwater is vital for all life and ecosystems. We use freshwater in many aspects of daily life including health, food production, power generation, manufacturing, and sanitation. The source of freshwater is precipitation from the atmosphere.

Although the earth's surface is two thirds water, less than 3% is freshwater, and much of that is ice, glaciers, permafrost, and polar ice caps. Most of accessible fresh water is used for agriculture (70%), then industrial (19%) and domestic uses (11%), including for drinking.

We are very lucky in our area to have access to an abundance of clean water, and an infrastructure that brings it into our homes, ready to use. Billions of people (29%) around the world lack this access to clean water, either due to ecological conditions, worsening because of climate change, or inadequate water infrastructure. Even more lack access to safely managed sanitation services, which causes illness and death.

Water pollution can happen on our streets and of course globally. It occurs when harmful chemicals or microorganisms contaminate a stream, river, lake, ocean, aquifer, or other body of water, making it toxic to humans, wildlife, and the environment.

Agriculture is one of the biggest polluters from fertilizers, pesticides, and animal waste, washed into bodies of water as it rains. Water is polluted by sewage and wastewater, oil from roads and from oil spills in or near bodies of water, and industrial waste. Another polluter that can stay in our water for thousands of years is radioactive waste generated by uranium mining, nuclear power plants, the production and testing of military weapons, and from research and medicine.

Most of us in this corner of the world can turn on the faucet in our homes and there is clean, fresh water that comes out. It runs and runs if we let it.

Washington’s drinking water comes from three sources: groundwater (wells and springs), surface water (lakes and rivers) and snowpack/snowmelt (supply for rivers, lakes and aquifers). Managed and protected by Seattle Public Utilities, drinking water in Shoreline usually comes from the protected watershed of the South Fork Tolt River in the Cascade Mountains.

Rain not absorbed into the earth flows into storm drains. Since it is not filtered or treated, everything on the street that washes into the storm drains goes directly to streams, lakes, and the Puget Sound. From my Echo Lake neighborhood the stormwater goes to Ballinger Lake, then to Lake Washington via McAleer Creek, then to Puget Sound.

Wastewater from flushing the toilet and drains in the house are piped to a wastewater treatment plant before going into Puget Sound. Only human waste and toilet paper go into toilets, and no grease, oil or food, medicines or chemicals should go into the drains.

Great blue heron on Lake Washington
What we can do locally about water seems pretty simple: don't pollute it and don't waste it. But many of our actions, although unintentional, do pollute, and most of us use more than we need.

I love to tell a story about carving a pumpkin with my then two-year-old daughter. I was using a little pumpkin carving knife which my daughter clearly wanted to try her hand at it. I hesitated, and she firmly said: "Mama, SHARE!"

Every morning I want to keep hearing her voice, reminding me to share. Water is a precious resource. The water we have access to must be shared, with all of life, with neighbors, between cities, and countries.

What can we do daily?

Talk to friends, neighbors, family about water. Where does it come from? How can you keep it clean? There is always something new to learn about conservation and pollution.

  • Take time to read the wonderful brochures from our utilities, cities, and water districts. Learn about what happens to the water on your street. And how neighbors can and must protect this resource.
  • Do notice how much water you use and need. In the Shoreline Climate Action plan residents are being asked in Shoreline to decrease our consumption by 27%. Do turn off the faucet, wash full loads of dishes/clothes, take short showers. Find and repair leaks.
  • Don’t use pesticides, or let oil, chemicals, or soap wash into the storm drains. Anything but rain that goes into the storm drains pollutes and hurts fish and wildlife. In Shoreline there is an adopt a storm drain program, where neighbors help drains stay clear of vegetation and everything except rainwater.

Do you buy cases of bottled water? Why? It is expensive, and comes in single use plastic bottles, covered with plastic. Marketing suggests it is better than our local tap water, failing to mention chemicals from the plastic possibly getting into the water, or how much fossil fuel was used to make the plastic, produce, fill, and transport the bottles to stores. Most plastic is not recycled, and ends up in landfills, in the ocean or transported then dumped in other countries.

Rain gardens and native landscaping help water soak into the earth. There is lots to learn about using plants, trees, and permeable surfaces in our yards. There are many ways to collect and use rainwater for watering. My mom’s family used old whiskey barrels back in the 30’s!

Many clothes are made with plastic, and when washed these fibers get into the water system and eventually the bodies of the fish, other birds, animals, and us. Microplastic pollution and ingestion in our water is a huge health and environmental problem.

Tell a neighbor you love their brown grass… and not encourage more watering and fertilizing! And never pesticides.

What would it mean to decrease freshwater use in agriculture and industry? And pollution? Where can you have impact or influence?

Ducks on Lake Washington
admiring their reflections
There is so much to learn about water, and many issues to further explore. We can listen and learn from each other. 

Thank you to the many workers in our communities that think about surface water, wastewater and of course our drinking water. And keep us educated about preserving this incredible resource.

Thanks to folks from City of Shoreline Surface and Wastewater, North City Water District, Seattle Public Utilities, Julie (environmental educator) and my husband, Sid (civil engineer) for sharing what they know and answering many questions.

Next month’s climate article will focus on saltwater and life in and near the ocean.

I hope to see you in the neighborhood… and don’t forget, “Share!”

--Diane Lobaugh

Past Shoreline Area News articles based on the pamphlet from Climate Action Shoreline: 


Anonymous,  July 20, 2023 at 6:55 PM  

easy easy - "if it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown flush it down". Why do we flush multiple gallons of fresh water when there is 1/4 cup of pee in the toilet?

David Hammond,  July 21, 2023 at 5:46 AM  

Thank you for this excellent article!

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