A three and a half minute film by Andrew Brown posted as part of the GE Focus Forward Filmmaker Competition posed an interesting question that I admit, had me stumped.

“Where does your water come from?”

Right? I mean, the most obvious answer is “from the tap”, but saying that is no more accurate than saying that apples come from the supermarket.

If you live in an area with natural sources of fresh water then it isn’t much of a stretch to reason that the water we use to brush our teeth, shower, and cook with is probably sourced from local rivers or lakes, treated, and then piped into local plumbing systems.

But what if you live an area with few natural water sources for miles?

Storm drain and fence
Storm drain and fence. Image courtesy of Sharon Mollerus

It’s something few consider the logistics of (myself included), and I’d wager than many would be as surprised as I was at the answer. In Tucson, Arizona the systems responsible for importing the city’s water are the largest electricity consumers in the entire state, and the largest emitter of carbon, too.

A canal system diverts and delivers water to Tucson from the Colorado River, over 300 miles away, yet according to the Free Water video, the annual rainfall of Tucson would more than meet the city’s water usage needs. So what’s the problem?

Well, it turns out that we may have become a bit too efficient. Modern drainage systems simply aren’t built to make the most of our rainwater, instead they collect and dispose of runoff as quickly as possible, often contaminating it in the process. The film Free Water, and a group called Harvesting Rainwater, shows how we can reverse that.

By doing something as simple as cutting out a two-foot section of curb, a barren stretch of roadside transformed into a lush urban forest, with few costs beyond the initial investment of indigenous plants. Beyond beautifying the landscape and adding green space, plants can cool surrounding building temperatures up to 11 degrees and help reduce soil erosion.

All of this by doing something incredibly simple. Asking a question, and then deciding that there must be a better answer.

This approach absolutely embodies the grassroots green movement and deserves a closer look – small groups of people taking on a problem that is seemingly insurmountable – our dwindling freshwater supply – and uses small-scale solutions to mitigate, alleviate, and even fix it. It isn’t always necessary to wait for government or policy to create change, we can – and must- create it for ourselves.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has” – Margaret Mead

Feature image courtesy of Reva G 

By Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville is the author of All You Need Is Less: An Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity. She is a writer, wannabe hippie and lover of soft cheeses. She lives in Edmonton, Canada, with her daughter. You can also find Madeleine at her blog, Sweet Madeleine.