Matan Gill grew up in a desert.
The people in his Israeli community thought about water every day. Parched grass in the front lawn wasn’t scoffed at. In fact, it was the norm.
In Israel, you can only hear the pitter patter of rainfall in the wintertime and even still, the sound of rain is only heard in the northern part of the country. It’s no surprise that water conservation and water engineering is a pressing issue in the country and at the forefront of the daily news.
“When you get the weather report, you also get the levels of the reservoir from which your country drinks,” Gill said. “It’d be like ‘Hello, nice sunny day today… and the canal dropped two meters.”
Gill is the sustainability coordinator for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and compiles data to measure how the University is doing on their environmental and sustainability performance.
“I work to bring people together and essentially create a long term vision to get us on the road to reaching our [environmental] goals,” Gill said.
Gill moved to Lincoln, Nebraska from Israel when he was 14-years-old. Not only did he find the different toilets and impeccably green lawns unusual, but he noticed the topic of water was rarely on people’s minds, or even considered a priority.
“Water is really the most important thing in the world for every country,” Gill said. “and here we are, so far removed from it, not knowing, not quite caring that we can be wasteful.”
He said that in bigger cities people are often bereft of the knowledge about where their goods come from.
“People just don’t have an association with the resources we use: food, energy, water to the actual source. We get so far removed that it’s hard to fathom really what it is.”
Gill believes that recognizing the connection between source and consumption will reduce water waste.
“My goal is to create that connection to the source,” Gill said. “We’re close to the source: we’re close to the [Platte] river, and we’re relatively close to our source of energy. So if it’s giving tours of a central plant where we create all the heating and cooling for campus where they have 600,000 gallons of water a day just evaporating into the air, so be it.”
Gill believes Lincoln is better off compared to many other populous areas.
“We’re relatively connected to our food system and the Ogallala Aquifer, which are in the hearts and minds of every farmer in the state,” he said.
Gill’s latest and most notable water initiative within the University occurred last semester when he headed the ASUN sustainability committee and put in 16 water bottle filler stations throughout the union.
“Bottled water. I don’t get the concept. You’ve got all of this plastic waste, all of the carbon associated with producing that and the transportation,” Gill says. “I don’t understand why someone should have to pay for that. It’s pretty much normal water that you’d get at the drinking fountain, but you pay for it and it has all of this carbon associated with it.”
“The simple change is to simply drink from the fountain or refill a water bottle,” Gill said.
The water bottle filler stations took approximately four years from the idea’s conception to the installation of the stations. On the stations there’s a count that shows how many times they have been used. Gill asserts that the Architecture Hall filler station has approximately 11,000 uses and the Nebraska Hall station has about 12,000.
“You walk past that and see that people are really using these and that sparks the thought that ‘maybe I should get up on that’” Gill said. “It creates this social norm that is considered acceptable to use a water bottle and refill it.
He reminisced that water cost a ton of money and was a substantial part of the utility bill in Israel, while in the United States the cost of water is very inexpensive.
“There, you know you can’t screw around with [water] because otherwise you won’t have water to drink and the price of water would go up,” Gill said. “Here the price of water doesn’t even get factored into anyone’s equation because it’s so cheap.”
However, there have been rumblings in the past posing the idea of upping the price of water in Lincoln. Last summer when there were water restrictions there was a bill up that, if passed, would raise the price through the summer.
When Gill works on creating water conservation initiatives for campus, the issue of water conservation is typically on the lower ranks because of the small amount of financial saving and the large cost of implementing many of the initiatives.
Gill said that in Israel, the people employ every measure to conserve the water they have. They implement ultra low flow faucets and shower heads and many homes have toilets that have a couple different buttons depending on the amount of water needed to flush the waste.
Gill described his culture shock in reference to water as follows: “When you come here, you’re like ‘Wow, what’s going on? Why don’t we have different types of toilets? Why do we use water like it’s nothing? And why are we watering lawns in the middle of the day when it just evaporates?”
“You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” Gill said. “That’s really where we are. We’re kind of taking advantage of it, living it up, without knowledge of where we are gonna be when it depreciates.”
Ingrid Holmquist authored this post. She was a PBT intern during the fall of 2013 while studying journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.