A summer storm replenishes Tofte Lake in northern Minnesota.
A summer storm replenishes Tofte Lake in northern Minnesota.
Jim Brandenburg, Minden Pictures

The Last Drop

We may not get all the water we want. But we can have the water we need.

Living in the high desert of northern New Mexico, Louise Pape bathes three times a week, military style: wet body, turn off water, soap up, rinse, get out. She reuses her drinking cup for days without washing it, and she saves her dishwater for plants and unheated shower water to flush the toilet. While most Americans use around a hundred gallons of water a day, Pape uses just about ten.

"I conserve water because I feel the planet is dying, and I don't want to be part of the problem," she says.

You don't have to be as committed an environmentalist as Pape, who edits a climate-change news service, to realize that the days of cheap and abundant water are drawing to an end. But the planet is a long way from dying of thirst. "It's inevitable that we'll solve our water problems," says Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, a nonpartisan environmental think tank. "The trick is how much pain we can avoid on that path to where we want to be."

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