What Drought? Millions of Americans Wasting Water for a Good Cause

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Watching someone have a bucket of liquid dumped over their heads historically has been something we reserve for Super Bowl victories but, thanks to a bit of viral marketing, it has been blowing up our news feeds. In case you still were wondering why, the purpose of the “Ice Bucket Challenge” is to raise awareness and money for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), the lethal neurodegenerative disorder better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Once challenged, participants have 24 hours to film themselves accepting the challenge, pouring a bucket of ice water over their heads, and challenging other victims people. Or, if they dislike dampness, then they can just donate $100 towards ALS research.

Gimmicky or not, the Challenge is proving effective ― it already has raised $44 million, according to The New York Times. To put this into perspective, the ALS Association raised only $19.4 million in 2013.

Though there’s nothing wrong with people having a bit of fun while raising money for a good cause, it is perplexing to watch so much perfectly good water being wasted even as half the nation suffers from drought. Take California, which Los Angeles Times reports only has enough water in storage to get the state through the next 12 to 18 months. It’s getting so bad, in fact, that even Texas is experimenting with recycling wastewater to irrigate crops (which is awesome, by the way).

So far, more than 5 million gallons of water have been wasted by participants of Ice Bucket Challenge, according to The Washington Post. That’s the same as nearly 120,000 baths or over half an inch of rain falling on a 300 acre piece of land. That’s enough water to drown the National Mall, or submerge Disneyland.

Surprisingly, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says it’s cool with the Ice Bucket Challenge. In a statement to The Wire the EPA said:

EPA fully supports the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. The agency would also encourage participants to be creative in utilizing water, such as holding the challenge in a garden that needs watering, or finding ways to capture water for reuse.

Water regulators say 5 million gallons is just a drop in the proverbial bucket ― people waste more than that needlessly watering their lawns ― and what really needs to change are people’s water-wasting habits.

Nevertheless, several prominent Ice Bucket Challenge participant have opted to conserve water while still playing along. Look at, Charlie Sheen, who recently dumped $10,000 in cash on his head in lieu of water.

“Let’s face it ice is going to melt, but this money is going to actually help people,” Sheen said.

Guardians of the Galaxy star Chris Pratt, who was challenged twice, decided to drink a Blue Ice Vodka and Smirnoff Ice instead of going the water route. However, his mother surprised him by dumping ice water on his head, anyway. Oops.

President Obama bowed out of the Challenge, after being called out by the 86-year-old Ethel Kennedy, but pledged to donate money to the cause. We likely won’t be seeing many public officials taking the Challenge because the State Department has banned participation by U.S. ambassadors and other high-profile foreign service officers ― but not for environmental reasons. Department lawyers say participation would violate federal ethics rules barring officials from using public office for private gain “no matter how worthy the cause.”

But not everyone is happy about the wasted water. The Twitter hashtag #droughtshaming has gone viral to speak out against the Challenge and raise awareness of the drought.

One such person tweeted:

Should we start dumping buckets of ALS on people’s heads to raise drought awareness? #droughtshaming

— Mr. Moran (@TexasHokie1000) August 23, 2014

The Ice Bucket Challenge may not be significantly contributing to our country’s drought, but it shows the public’s lack of concern for what increasingly is becoming a catastrophe. Water managers in California and across the country have done good work stretching water resources as widely as they can, which has shielded the public from water flow disruptions. If things don’t change, much of the country could be facing mandatory water rationing and related skyrocketing food costs.

When you find yourself called out for the Ice Bucket Challenge, donate to ALS, then do us all a favor and remind people to conserve water.

About Mike Hower

Mike Hower is a writer, thinker, and strategic communicator most interested in the intersection of sustainable business and policy. Currently based in Washington, D.C., he is a graduate research fellow at The George Washington University, where he is pursing a masters degree in Media & Public Affairs and researching the impact of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) on sustainable development. He is hopelessly addicted to travel and has a borderline unhealthy obsession with his golden retriever, Gerico.
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