The lake water was crisp and prickly as it worked it's way into my sneakers and up my legs into my jeans. I wasn't planning on getting wet - in fact I was wearing a raincoat over my thick sweater (it was October after all). Despite my soaking socks, I now needed to figure out just how to get the canoe up out of the water, and the water back out of the canoe. This was one of my darker days as a Scout. I knew that I would not be earning my canoeing badge that day. And it wasn't even my fault!
I was angry at the water. Angry at it for invading my boat. Angry at it for being so sloshy and slippery - and so cold! The fact that elsewhere on the planet there are other children suffering from a lack of this crisp, clean liquid was the furthest thought from my twelve-year-old mind.
Fast-forward to 2013, and I find myself in an altogether different frame of mind. All my life I have been spoiled by water. Growing up in rainy Vancouver it seemed that there could never be a shortage of the stuff - it falls from the sky in such great quantities! It wasn't until I visited a lighthouse on Vancouver Island's remote west coast that I began to understand the importance, and the rarity, of fresh, clean water. You see, this lighthouse is quite removed from the luxuries of infrastructure. The only way to access it is by boat or helicopter. The Canadian Coastguard will sometimes bring fresh water supplies at the height of summer, however the vast majority of the water they use is collected rainwater. The keepers' houses are all equipped with specialized roofing to facilitate just this purpose, and there are large cisterns on site for storage. Despite the size of the operation, the water levels invariably run low in the summer, and conservation measures are put in place for all staff and visitors alike.
Upon my first visit, the "if it's yellow let it mellow" rule felt particularly unsanitary. It took a while to adjust, but after a couple of stern warnings from the lightkeeper himself (a large German fellow with a dry sense of humour) I was indoctrinated to the ways of conservation: short showers where you turn the water off while you apply soap and shampoo, a small basin of water for dishwashing, minimal use of the washing machine for clothes - only on certain days and at certain times, and only flushing the toilet for solid waste.
Truth be told, conservation is not at all inconvenient - the trick is it involves establishing new habits. And sometimes there is not a large lightkeeper there to keep you accountable.
Although my experience with water is what led me to the HSBC Water Programme, it is the programme itself that has had the largest impact on my behaviours. As a Citizen Science Leader I am more exposed to certain types of triggers that I use to remind myself that my individual actions can make a difference. For example I am accustomed to brushing my teeth with the tap running, but after an evening of water testing the urge to turn off that tap is much stronger. And all the little habits put together have a way of shifting my mental state to a point where I am now more sensitive, more aware, of my interactions with water. Granted, I still feel far removed from the impact of my consumer purchases; those jeans I buy use up a lot of water in the production process, but I still buy them. I think that being removed from the source of the problem, such as bluejeans or coffee or beef production, is one of the largest hurdles that we face in the increasingly important mission to preserve the world's fresh water and it's sources.
Yesterday I tested the water at Still Creek in Burnaby, BC, Canada. It took 5 minutes. The water is murky brown and every once in a while methane bubbles erupt from the decaying mud below, and the thought that occurred to me was, "How lucky am I, that I live in this place where I am able to choose a clean source of water, that I am not forced to drink from this creek." I would like that to be the case for everyone around the world, and the realist in me is upset by the barriers that we face before that could become a reality. Regardless, I will keep my little habits growing, and hopefully plant the same seeds in those people who are near to me, and together all our little habits might just become something bigger.