Who left the shower on?

Do you ever feel like a cranky old lady? One moment you are shaking your head and muttering to yourself about “people nowadays,” and before you know it you’re yelling at the side of a house and no one is even there to hear you. I find that many of my cranky moments happen shortly after 5am when no one in their right mind should be awake, and if they are, they should certainly not be out exercising. Yet there I am, running or swimming or doing some other nonsensical activity.

In that pre-dawn hour, any number of things can set me off on a cranky rant. A lady throws her cigarette out the car window. “The world is not your ashtray!” I scream at her taillights. Another person rolls through a stop sign without evening looking. “Don’t worry about me,” I call, “Those traffic signals can be pesky!” There is an endless supply of annoyances, but two practices in particular get my lips a’ mumbling the most.

The first such irritation is surely familiar to anyone else who enjoys walking or jogging in the early morning. You’re trotting along trying to keep your drowsy eyes open and then suddenly, bam! A shower of frigid water cascades onto your head from an automatic sprinkler set to spray over the sidewalk and onto a boulevard strip. Even though the majority of the water is coursing down the sidewalk and into the storm drain in the street, and despite the fact that there was two inches of rain the previous night, nonetheless, the inane sprinkling must continue!

One morning I was running with my dog and as we crested a hill, a shock of water erupted out of a broken sprinkler head right into our pathway. I dodged one way and Cocoa dodged the other, causing the leash to wrap around a fire hydrant and me to fall flat on my face on the sidewalk. There I was, pinned to the ground in a tangle of leash and sputtering in the deluge. When I finally ensnarled myself I leapt to my feet and screamed at the top of my lungs, “Readjust your sprinklers!” The house, dark and quiet, gave no reply.

My second source of early morning exasperation happens in the women’s locker room at the gym. I’m not sure if everyone’s wrists are broken, but it appears that no one but me can turn the showers completely off when they’re done. Drizzling, dripping, leaking, trickling, the sound of wasted water grows louder and louder in my ears until finally I stomp back into the shower room and give each handle a final twist. Even more confounding are the many times that I have walked into a completely empty locker room to find one of the showers going full steam, as if its user were suddenly teleported mid-stream to a far away location. “Was it just to much effort to turn the handle?” I wonder in mumblement.

 A recent special edition of National Geographic reported that the average American uses about 100 gallons of water at home each day, while millions of the world’s poorest people subsist on fewer than five gallons of water a day. According to the National Groundwater Association, about 500,000 new wells are drilled each year in the United States. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported that between 1991 and 2005, two years with similar rainfall, total groundwater use increased from 200 million gallons to 252 million gallons. This was a 26% increase, even though population during the same time increased by only 18%. I may be overly cranky in the morning, but clearly we need to change something about our water usage.

The Freshwater Society of Minnesota has declared 2010 to be the Year of Water. With this designation, they initiated a yearlong celebration of our lakes, rivers, streams and aquifers and are collaborating on a variety of educational activities about groundwater sustainability and groundwater and surface water quality. At http://www.freshwater.org/ one can find a wealth of information and resources, including curriculum, artwork, special events and more. Freshwater Society has also created a tool called the Water Audit, which can be accessed directly at www.freshwater.org/wateraudit. The goal of the tool is to help people estimate their typical daily water use, as well as to identify ways to conserve water and save money.

I’m still contemplating the best way to let my sprinkling neighbors and showering gym mates know about the new water audit. Distributing flyers seems like too much of a hassle, and I’m not sure I’ll remember the web address when I’m yelling at the sides of their houses. Perhaps the news will spread by word of mouth? Meanwhile, I’m eagerly awaiting the day when I can return home from a run, still dry. Until then, I’ll keep stomping around in the locker room, shaking my head and yelling, “Who left the shower on?”