ROI – The Water We Spend

Aerial photo of Beaver Valley Power Station in Pennsylvania, showing evaporation from the large cooling towers.
This article is part three of a series.

“People don’t have any idea that when they flip their light switches on or their air conditioner, there’s huge amounts of water involved,” said Neil Carman, director of the clean air program for the Texas Chapter of the Sierra Club.


Water is behind absolutely everything we do. Let’s begin this story back home. How does our domestic water use break down?

Pie chart of our water use

According to the EPA the average family uses more than 300 gallons of water per day. If you look at the pie chart above (which comes from their website) you can see that we use this water for worthy goals.

Sanitation cannot be overstated. It is what makes life bearable. As such I deem this to be a good ROI for water spending. Though I would stress that we must strive to carry out these use-cases more efficiently.

Efficient use of resources at home is laudable. But we shouldn’t sink into the comforting fantasy that small changes at home will make a big difference for water conservation. The illusion of control that we get from being ‘good people’ is, like most illusions, detrimental.

Even if everybody followed the most stringent conservatism in their domestic water use it wouldn’t begin to make a dent in our ‘water debt’ (To be explained). This is because the biggest water hogs are irrigation and Thermoelectric power.

US Freshwater Withdrawals Chart

As you can see from the above graph almost half of all freshwater withdrawals in 2010 were for Thermoelectric power. Irrigation is the second largest water hog at 32%.

Power and food are essentials. It is a good return on investment to spend water on these things. As with domestic use we must be more efficient here. The efficiencies that we improve in these two areas will have a far greater impact on making sure that we have plenty of fresh water available for the future.

The good news is that we do seem to have had a positive impact on water use.

Bar showing showing trends in fresh surface-water use, 1950 to 2010

What the above graph tells us is that there is a relationship between water use and population.

According to this graph water use peaked in 1980. It has since that time remained more or less steady. Though population growth continued along with a greater need for irrigation and industry, total water use has not risen. This seems to suggest that we’ve become more efficient at using water.

While I don’t doubt that greater efficiency in water use has contributed to this pleasant steadiness, I can’t help but think that offshoring a good chunk of our industry may also play a role. (As of the writing of this article I don’t have the exact data but I feel the possibility is worth mentioning.)

Now that you have some idea as to how we use water it’s time to get a bit more in-depth. The next article in this series will delve into the technologies and practices that have allowed us to get more out of water since the 1980’s.


Sources

Applying ‘ROI Thinking’ to Environmental Questions

Image result for the atchafalaya basin


This mini-article could have also been called:

‘Why I Apply ROI Thinking to Environmental Questions’

But it looked awkward in the title bar so I opted for what you see there up top.

So, why apply ‘ROI Thinking’ to environmental questions? Well…

Bottom Line: Money represents resources. If we can use ROI to talk about finance which is a roundabout way of talking resources then we can use it to talk about resources.

So, what is ROI?

It’s a business term that means ‘Return on Investment.’

For the Pedantic:

“Return on investment, or ROI, is the most common profitability ratio. There are several ways to determine ROI, but the most frequently used method is to divide net profit by total assets. So if your net profit is $100,000 and your total assets are $300,000, your ROI would be .33 or 33 percent.”

-Return on Investment(ROI) – Entrepreneur https://www.entrepreneur.com/encyclopedia/return-on-investment-roi

This acronym is useful not just for business but pretty much for everything.

What is it that you get out of the work and resources that you put in?

Some may think this a cynical way of looking at things.

But that’s not an accurate interpretation.

ROI has nothing to do with generosity or stinginess it has everything to do with economy.

If you expend all your energy and resources on something then you may not have that energy and those resources for something more vital.

This is why it is vastly important to pay attention to your return on investment.

So what are some resources that we should be careful with.

Let’s start with the general and important ones:

Time, material, and health.

If you spend all your time with one job or friend then you won’t have any for another.

If you eat all your food and don’t have money then you’re gonna be hungry.

If you ignore your health by sleeping only a couple of hours a night to do XYZ then you won’t be doing XYZ for very long.

This is why you need to pay attention to ROI. Which I will now just call Roy.

Roy is easy to understand but difficult to apply.

Like lots of business terms Roy is basically formal wear for simple ideas.

Roy is about getting as much bang for your buck as possible.

The issue that I’m using Roy to evaluate is an environmental one.

I’m trying to figure out better ways of utilizing the vital resource known as water.

By figuring out I mean describing the problems surrounding water by listening to scientists, journalists, and other professionals and then relaying that information through this journal and coming up with my own ideas.

I’m hoping that in so doing I learn a lot and am able to provide an accurate picture of water issues and possible solutions.

I think that a good place to start is Roy. What are we getting out of the water we spend?

Or it’s counter: what are we losing by spending water in the ways we are now?

‘What are we getting out of the water we spend’ and ‘what are we losing by spending water’ will be the subjects of the next two nonfiction essays in this journal.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned.

ROI Today – Are we productive?

Image result for commute

Take cars, for example. It takes 75,000 gallons of water to produce one ton of steel. Since the average car contains about 2,150 pounds of steel, that means over 80,000 gallons of water is needed to produce the finished steel for one car.


An issue that I will be tackling in upcoming weeks is the amount of resources we spend versus what we produce.

I have had a recurring thought on many a commute that the ratio of products and services rendered versus the cost of production is wildly askew.

Many if not most people drive two tons of steel to and from work  a day. You don’t have to even take carbon into consideration to see why this is potentially wasteful from an ROI standpoint.

First there is the metal itself, then there is the time in production and maintenance, then there is the cost of the fuel. Then there are hidden costs such as the 80,000 gallons of water it takes to produce a car.

Understanding how to balance the ratio of resource use and productivity requires abstaining from finger-pointing and taking a long hard look at what’s actually happening.

My goal is to find out how to produce more than we consume.


Here are some links that can provide insights into the scale of consumption for one very vital resource called water.