What began as a classroom discussion in Wisconsin has blossomed into a national project to raise water conservation awareness and help people lower their daily water use.
Marquette University political science professor McGee Young taught a class on water policy last year.
The hours spent discussing worldwide water scarcity problems got his students thinking about local solutions.
“Obviously our resources were limited, so we couldn’t solve the problems of India, for example, but let’s look at our own backyard," Young says. "Here in Wisconsin, we’re blessed to be next to the Great Lakes. But not more than 20 miles from Milwaukee, there is the smaller city of Waukesha, which is running out of water. Waukesha is not able to get access to Lake Michigan water and so they’re faced with a real severe crisis.”
The class concluded that most Americans have no idea how much water they use. Without that information, Young says, it’s difficult to do something to reduce it. The typical water bill, he says, doesn’t provide much guidance.
“In most places, the water bills are not very user friendly. In Milwaukee, we get it once a quarter. The water company tells us how many hundreds of cubic feet we’ve used. To me, 100 cubic feet has no context. So if I use 20 in a quarter, was that good? Was that bad?”
So Young and his students developed H2O Score to answer those questions.
“We put together a website that takes people’s actual water usage and translates it into terms they understand, like average gallons-per-day, and allows them to compare to other similar households and then gives them tips for reducing the amount of water that they use.”
Political science major Daniel Beck is an H2O Score member. “It definitely made me much, much more aware of my water usage.”
Beck says there are many ways to conserve water including taking shorter showers, checking faucets and toilets for leaks, and installing new products like low-flow shower heads. Being part of this project taught him other lessons, too.
“It’s given me an incredible amount of experience with a vast array of things: how a business gets started, how a business works," Beck says. "I’ve done everything from approaching local municipalities to get the information so we can put it through our website, doing market research and also working on a team.”
Local experts in water conservation accompany H2O Score members on their on-site consultations to local residents and businesses.
“They came in and we looked at everything that uses water in our restaurant,” says Peter Sandroni, who owns La Merando, a popular restaurant in Milwaukee. “From hand sinks in our bathroom to the dish machine in our kitchen, with everything in between, the water heater at the bar, the ice machine, all that stuff, we looked at.”
After conducting that water audit, the group offered Sandroni tips for using water more efficiently.
“[They said] this is where you can immediately have an impact on lowering water consumption in your restaurant: low-flow water [faucets] at hand sinks in the bathrooms. Number two was in our dish area, we have a three-compartment sink and we have a dish machine," Sandroni says. "We have a spray nozzle that you use to kind of pre-rinse all the plates and pots and pans. We reduced the water flow coming out of those as well. Number three was asking customers if they wanted water, instead of automatically bringing water out to customers.”
H2O Score founder Young says the positive feedback from the local residents and business owners encouraged him to expand the project, this time with a new class of students.
"We’re rolling out new pilot programs in small communities here in Wisconsin, redoing the website to make it more user-friendly, and now we’re getting feedback from people all over the country - water utility directors, individuals - who want to know how they can participate, too, because they want to save water, save money and make a difference in their communities.”
Every drop of water counts. That’s the message H2O Score hopes to drive home through its online tips and on-the-ground water conservation efforts.