Urgent need for conservation if we're to have water in the future

On my trips into the wilderness years ago, one of my absolute needs was drinkable water. Frequently, water is contaminated by acid rain, sulfur, mercury, pesticides, tailings from mining, PCBs and other pollutants.

One of my first acts when setting up camp was to hollow out a concavity in the earth and line it with garbage bags that I took with me. Each morning I had collected some drinkable water from the deposits of dew. I also kept purifiers in case there was an absence of dew or rain.

During World War II, I visited arid countries in North Africa, from Morocco to Ethiopia. Those countries bordering the Sahara Desert have had drought conditions for centuries and they have learned out of necessity to use water sparingly.

As a kid on the farm in Indiana I lived through a severe drought. We used wooden rain barrels to collect water during a rainfall. The rainwater was used to do laundry, take baths and wash hair. The hogs and horses had free water from the sky.

Moving to Atlanta in 1962 with Davison Paxson, I was active in the Chamber of Commerce. I read a report prepared by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce projecting that by year 2050 Atlanta would be the most populated city in America. The rationale was good: Atlanta could grow from Tennessee to Florida and from South Carolina to Alabama. There were no mountains or oceans to impede expansion. In 1962, Atlanta had less than one million people, and we had Lake Lanier.

We now have 4 million people, and we still boast Lake Lanier, a dangerously inadequate water supply for this growing metropolitan area. Officials should have developed another lake near Duluth many years ago when the Chattahoochee valley was mostly farmland, backing up the second impoundment to the Lake Lanier dam.

Americans are extravagantly wasteful in the use of such a precious resource. The severity of the drought should be a wake-up call. Along with restrictions that have been ordered, to survive, Georgians must be frugal in the use of water and learn recycling: bath water used for flushing our toilets, gray water for watering plants and the extension of downspouts to direct rain water to shrubbery and flowers, plus the installation of rain barrels to capture what rainfall comes.

If a homeowner does not have rain barrels, his share of the next rainfall will end up in the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean. Recovery from the drought is dependent on Mother Nature, but it could take years to refill our reservoirs.

During the last rain 15 days ago my barrels captured 120 gallons of water and my shrubbery is coming back to life. In November of 2006 there was four inches of rain. In November of 2007 there has been none, with water rationing likely the next step. Then we may need to learn Native American rain dances.

Bill York is a Lawrenceville resident.