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Guest column | Capt. Dayna Rowden Joyner

Guest column: Iraq went from Eden to desert; might Florida do likewise?

I stand in the shower as the warm water pours over my aching muscles. I would like nothing better than to soak under the steady stream for most of the morning, but the water is gone in 30 seconds. It isn't gone because we ran out; it is gone because I don't want it to run out. I'm taking a combat shower. No, it doesn't involve a weapon, but it is one of the ways we protect ourselves in the combat zone.

I've been in Iraq now for two weeks. The thing I notice most is not the heat that reaches over 100 degrees by 10 a.m. I lived in Florida for most of my life, and my father told me, "You just need to learn to sweat." What I notice is the barren stretches of land that resembles the surface of the moon.

There is no water here. As I scan the area, I long for even the brown summer lawns of west central Florida. Even the rain we would receive in Florida is enough to keep the grass on the lawns. Here in Iraq, the sun beats down and the wind blows away the soil, and there is nothing to keep the plants alive. I wonder if this is what Florida might look like if we ran out of water.

I'm stationed in Basrah, Iraq, the southernmost province that lies on the northern Persian Gulf. It is the meeting place of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers; some even say that this is the site of the Garden of Eden. I'm not seeing it. This area is also the site of the world's third largest marshland. During Saddam Hussein's reign, he drained it not for economic reasons, but to punish Shi'as who hid in the marshes. He built dams and drained the wet­lands. The result was the same as has happened in the U.S., the loss of valuable acres of pristine wetlands. Are we in Florida headed the way of Iraq? Will we become a desert too?

In Florida, developers drained precious wetlands to build houses, shopping centers and parking lots. People use gallons and gallons of water to shower and water their lawns. I am still in awe of the extravagance. I thought about starting an herb garden here, but it sounds a little ridiculous now.

In Iraq, we have low-flow shower heads that only use 2.5 gallons per minute, low volume toilets and signs everywhere that remind us to "Drink the entire bottle of water before getting a new one," "Turn off the water while shaving," and the Army limits us to 15 gallons of water per person per day for hygiene purposes.

Did you know that with a regular-flow shower head, you would use about 40 gallons of water during a 10-minute shower? Did you know the girls in the next shower trailer over ran out of water this morning? That's what happens when you take it for granted. It runs out.

Iraq has been suffering through a drought for the last two years, with rainfall 30 to 40 percent below annual averages. In central Florida, the Southwest Florida Water Management District has been under a similar drought for the last three years. The situation in Florida is not permanent, much like my deployment here, but the changes you can make to conserve water can be. The Southwest Florida Water Management District Web site has ways that you can save water. Check out www.swfwmd.state.fl.us.

In the mean time, take a combat shower. Here's how:

Step 1: Get wet (about 30 seconds).

Step 2: Get soapy (you don't run the water then).

Step 3: Rinse (about 1 minute).

Not exactly luxurious, but it does the trick to save almost 35 gallons of water per person per day. For the 1,200 person division headquarters of the 34th Infantry Division, that's over 1.2 million gallons of water saved while we're here. If you're a family of five, that 52,500 gallons of water saved between now and the time I come home in February.

Keep Florida green, and do your part to save the blue.

Capt. Dayna Rowden Joyner graduated from Springstead High School and the University of Florida. Following a six-year hitch in the Navy, she volunteered to deploy in February with the Minnesota Army National Guard's 34th "Red Bull" Infantry Division to Basrah, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Guest column: Iraq went from Eden to desert; might Florida do likewise? 05/13/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 14, 2009 1:31pm]

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