Drinking dinosaur pee

A long, long time ago, a young diplodocus stood on the edge of a vast swamp. (Ahem. No, he didn’t have a name because people weren’t around back then to name him. Ok, fine. His name was Joey.)   Looking around watchfully to ensure no allosauruses were nearby, he bowed his long, graceful neck and took a loud, sloppy slurp of fresh pond water. (Ok, fine. All of the allosauruses in the area were nice and had stopped eating other dinosaurs ten years ago.) Lumbering off towards the forest, the giant sauropod paused at the edge of a clearing, and then he peed a thundering waterfall of pee that came down so hard it flattened a fern. Over time, some of the pee evaporated and some soaked into the ground, mixing together with the ancient pee from other dinosaurs. 153 million years later, you walked over to the sink, turned on the faucet, and got yourself a nice big glass of ice-cold diplodocus pee to drink.

In the best seller, The Big Thirst, reporter and author Charles Fishman writes that, “The water coming out of your kitchen tap is four billion years old and might well have been sipped by a Tyrannosaurus rex.” Before you spit out that swig of Evian, however, take solace in this analysis from Jon Tennant, a paleontologist, who told the Earth Touch News Network that there’s no real way of knowing what percentage of the water we drink passed through a dinosaur’s kidneys. “At certain points there were loads of big dinosaurs [in the world], and at different points loads of small ones, and sometimes, very few of either.” Furthermore, he goes on to explain that the total amount of water on earth actually hasn’t remained constant throughout all time. Even so, there is still a really good chance you just brushed your teeth with dinosaur pee.

Though 71% of the earth’s surface is covered in water, we know that only 3% of that water is freshwater. Of that 3%, 69% is frozen in icecaps and glaciers where it is inaccessible to us, and 30% is buried underground. So, only 0.009% of the water on earth is freshwater, flowing through rivers, lakes and wetlands. All of the water that is on earth stays here on earth (that’s why we’re drinking dinosaur pee), but freshwater doesn’t necessarily stay fresh, and clean water doesn’t always stay clean.

According to UN Water, 85% of the world population lives in the driest parts of the planet. 783 million people do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. Freshwater resources are used for irrigation and food production – a huge pressure as the world’s population increases – and treating wastewater requires significant amounts of energy. In fact, the amount of energy needed to treat wastewater is expected to increase globally by 44% by 2030 (from 2006 levels). Meanwhile, in developing countries without wastewater treatment facilities, up to 90% of wastewater flows untreated into rivers, lakes and oceans.

St. Croix River - one of many groundwater dependent resources in our area
St. Croix River – one of many groundwater dependent resources in our area

Even in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, groundwater modeling conducted by the Metropolitan Council indicates that our current water use is unsustainable. The aquifers that supply 70% of Minnesotans with drinking water are becoming depleted, the Met Council warns, and many lakes, streams and wetlands are already suffering as a result.  The average Twin Cities resident uses 125 gallons of water each day (2010 data). Communities in Washington County using less than 100 gallons of water per person, per day include Lake St. Croix Beach, Lakeland, Lakeland Shores and Newport. Meanwhile, Oak Park Heights is the lone city in the county using more than 150 gallons of water per person per day.

Though rainwater eventually recharges aquifers, less than 10% of the annual rainfall in the Twin Cities works its way through the soils to replenish our groundwater. Bigger rooftops, wider roads, and larger parking lots mean more impervious surfaces where rainwater cannot soak in.

We all share a responsibility for conserving our freshwater resources and everyone can make changes in their lifestyles to use less water, whether you rent an apartment or own a home. Switching to new, water-efficient appliances saves water as well as energy because it takes energy to obtain water and heat water for household use. Look for WaterSense labels, which indicate products certified by the US EPA. Using less water and less energy also translates into lower heat and water bills for you. Fixing leaks is an equally important – and nearly free – way to conserve water. One leaky faucet dripping one drop per second wastes 2,082 gallons of water per year, which is the same as leaving the shower running for almost 14 hours! Find more tips for household water conservation at: http://www.metrocouncil.org/Wastewater-Water/Planning/Water-Supply-Planning/Guidance-Planning-Tools/Water-Conservation.aspx.

The gift of fresh water has been passed down to us from generation to generation and even species to species. Let’s take good care of our water, even if we know it’s diplodocus pee, so that we can give the same gift to future generations.