Water, water, as far as the eye can see. But the notion of utilizing the ocean to solve water shortages is deeply flawed. *File photo of Shelly Bay by Tony McWilliam
Water, water, as far as the eye can see. But the notion of utilizing the ocean to solve water shortages is deeply flawed. *File photo of Shelly Bay by Tony McWilliam
Part I of II

Give a man a cause, and he will ignore what's actually wrong with the country.

It's a maxim that neatly applies to the recently declared 'war on water wastage.'

The Field Marshall leading us into battle is the Works & Engineering Ministry's Mr. Drippy: an animated mascot who takes the less-than-intimidating form of a smiling water droplet.

Mr. Drippy represents the softer side of war: clearly he has nothing more formidable in his sights than an impressionable five-year-old.

Let's be generous and not make a big deal of the fact that, cute though he may be, Mr. Drippy isn't even a Bermudian original. (He bears an uncanny resemblance to the animated water droplet Mr. Drippy who launched a water conservation campaign in Ireland's Fingal County in the spring of 2007). In short, our Mr. Drippy's an ex-pat.

The question is, will this 'good-enough-for-government' approach to conservation actually work?

We can hope so, but as we back away from the front line to get a better view of the battlefield as a whole, the likelihood of a lasting victory seems feeble at best.

But why? Water conservation has come naturally to Bermudians for generations - not because we were ahead of the curve on saving the planet, but because we learned from grim experience that it's tough to keep your kids or your pots clean with an empty tank.

So, my fellow Bermudians, before we rush into Mr. Drippy's slippery embrace, ask not what we can do to save water - but how this became a problem in the first place.

Bermuda boasts an impressive history of liquid ingenuity. How many countries can claim a populace of six-year olds who can fix a toilet faster than a professional plumber, using only duct tape?

Within 50 years, our resourceful settlers designed the 'Bermuda roof' to collect water, which has not only withstood the test of time but also achieved international renown.

Our ingenious roofs

A paper presented by D.H. Waller at the first International Rainwater Catchments Systems Conference in 1982 featured Bermuda's roof design as a possible solution for Hawaii's water shortages.

The Bermuda roof has even been adapted for Kuala Lumpur's city centre in Malaysia.

Every Bermudian child learns the rule of four: how to bathe in four inches of water, shower in four minutes, and jiggle the toilet handle four times.

For 400 years, these measures have been enough. So what's changed? We have. And the water conservation campaign is a Band-Aid solution that targets a symptom rather than its root cause.

The problem is not simply frivolous water consumption, but the rampant consumerism that has ingrained itself into Bermuda's national psyche. We spend money like it's, well, water.

As a result, core values become diluted and the margin between necessity and luxury drains away, rapidly.

Think of the big cars that are now clogging our roads. Consider how many houses have private swimming pools, when the ocean is less than a mile away. Many pools are kept full year-round, but used only in summer. The mantra is: If I can afford it, I will have it.

But can we afford to be using so much water?

The current economic crisis has underscored the fragility of wealth and many of us are adjusting our spending accordingly. And yet profligate attitudes persist when it comes to our natural resources.

One journalist inadvertently crystallized this skewed outlook when, in a story about a planned desalination plant here, he referred to "unlimited ocean reserves" as an answer to our water shortage problems.

How much longer must we make the critical error of assuming that nature is here to serve us and is unlimited in its capacity to do so?

The examples are numerous: from cahows and green turtles to the Amazon rainforest and oil reserves. Unless we make fundamental changes, we will continue to take more than we need and, inevitably, reap the environmental disaster we've sown.

If the problem of water consumption in Bermuda is serious enough to warrant a government campaign, we need to dig deeper. Mr. Drippy just doesn't wash.

Additional writing by Tony McWilliam, editor.

In part II, next week:

solutions. Desalination - the ultimate answer or unsustainable pipedream?