Epilogue (excerpt)

WHAT ABOUT WATER conservation? Until recently, the Great Lakes region rarely emphasized conserving water— mainly because it never had too. The Basin’s world-renowned water abundance created a lack of appreciation for the global preciousness of potable freshwater, leading to a regional culture of misuse and neglect. Water utilities in the Basin have traditionally looked at conservation as a tool to combat drought, rather than as a standard operating procedure.1 For years the City of Chicago was well known for charging residential customers a flat rate for water, no matter how much they used. Numerous Great Lakes industries were attracted to the Basin because of the region’s water abundance, and many made a habit of using that water without regard to waste. Residential customers were equally dismissive of the need to conserve water.

In the Great Lakes region that regressive view of water is changing, and the attitude adjustment is part of an international trend. Citizens the world over are showing a greater appreciation for the global scarcity of clean, reliable drinking water—call it a “water awakening.” By declaring 2003 the International Year of Freshwater, the United Nations globalized the movement toward greater water awareness and conservation. And in North America—one of the most wasteful water regions on the planet—that water awakening is long overdue.

Anecdotal signs of the awakening abound. Every year large numbers of North Americans flock to...