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Water Conservation versus Consumption: The Age Old Issue of Ignorace and Habit

Funny how even my most random experiences always seem to come back to wine.

Last Tuesday, I had one of those mornings where you wake up with a small laundry list of errands you want to get done for the day, while breathing shallow wondering how you’re going to magically accomplish it all. We all know this feeling, and it’s not a relaxing one.

Washing up and dressing quickly, I ran out the door completely oblivious to the fact that I still had a mascara line sweeping off the left eye from the day before, looking frighteningly similar to a member of Kiss. Note to self: mirrors were actually made for a reason.

My day had officially begun, albeit on a stressful note. With umbrella in hand, I strolled through the lush green park of Parque Vallparadis to the government center where I stood in line for an hour to get my new identity card. Having failed miserably, because I didn’t humor the bureaucratic Gods with enough unnecessary paperwork, I left cursing under my breath as I continued on to our local bread shop located halfway across town. Clearly, this was not a good omen for the rest of my day.

With a piping hot loaf of crusty French baguette under my left arm, savoring the delicious yeasty aromas, I started my ascent up the hill towards the grocery store. But as I was nearing the crest of the hill, I noticed a stream of water snaking down the slope directly through my legs. Feeling a slight chill from the light misty rain, I concluded that the stream couldn’t have been naturally created, yet I couldn’t see the origin began. That was until….not two minutes later a thundering swishing sound came barreling over the hill coming from a large, bumble bee yellow street cleaner spraying gallons of water across the large pedestrian walkway, while using its large black, metal brushes to scrub the rough pavement.

Allow me to repeat this: in a mist of rain, there were street cleaners spraying the pavement was gallons of water to brush it clean!!

This is where Gabriella turns into the Hulk, desperately wanting to scream at the world in anger and frustration.

For those of you who are not in the “know”, Spain has a massive water shortage, slowly turning the nation into a large empty desert. We’re talking tumble weeds in many parts of the south. And rather than being known as the main produce provider for the whole of Europe in next fifty years, our reputation will have been relegated to our vast landscape of well, dirt. We’ve had one of the driest winters on record and have been contracting boats from Marseille, France to ship 25,000 cubic meters of water daily to our dry and crusty shores. It’s been bad, really bad. Conversations had been had over closing public pools, restricting water use in homes and beginning more widespread campaigns on water conservation, but somehow our friendly neighborhood street cleaners missed the memo.

Sunset over Montserrat

“Hey lady, over the past 8 weeks, we’ve accumulated over 424,000 cubic feet of rain here in Catalunya, which almost brings our reserves up to full capacity! So who are you to say that we can’t clean our streets when our water levels are clearly up to snuff.”

I imagine this might be a retort I could easily expect from my fellow government officials, but let’s be clear, just because we’re getting a deluge of rain over the past few months doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be changing our behaviors. We no more need to clean our city streets during a rainstorm than we need to wrap our fruit in plastic and Styrofoam – a sad but true Spanish custom. Personally, I find the behavior to be selfish, ignorant and completely wasteful.

The Endless Cycle of Habit
It is my belief that the majority of our choices come from routine, doing the same thing everyday because we program ourselves on automatic pilot. What does this mean? It means that when we wake up in the morning, rather than be conscious of why we’re taking a 30 minute shower, washing our clothes after wearing them once or even recycle our wine bottles – yes, even recycling may not always be such a fabulous idea, we stay in our happy little bubble and do what we “used’ to doing, not willing to asses if our habits are either productive or effective.

Case in point, we were lectured by Richard Smart at the II International Climate and Wine Conference on how much water was wasted in recycling glass, whereby pushing for the widespread use of Tetrapak. This wasn’t the first time Ryan and I had heard this argument, but try as we might to find more information as to how much water is wasted, and we came up with only a handful of articles. It’s not to say that the energy saved in recycling bottles isn’t evident, but why isn’t there more information on the amount of water or energy lost is both the cleaning and shipping of glass bottles? Have you heard about the the large amount of water wasted in this process, and if so, where can we find this information? If Tetrapak embodies 80% less energy than glass, shouldn’t we be putting our energy in alternative containers?

Let’s put this another way. What if you lived here in Alicante where water restrictions are a common occurrence during the steamy summer month, and suddenly, you were sideswiped by the mother of all droughts? Your water resources are frighteningly low; and consequently, you have only a few hours a day to shower, wash dishes and clothes, and water your plants. Do you keep recycling your glass bottles even though its taking away from your precious water reserves?

The big question being, why are we allowed to stay in our happy little bubble believing that as long as we recycle, we don’t have to place greater emphasis on reducing or reusing our resources?

Food for Thought,


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