Water. It sustains life, nourishes, cleanses and refreshes. It's pure, simple and essential.

Yet this finite resource is also wasted -- used as if there could be no end in sight. But there is.

And the ongoing near water crisis should not only remind us of this existential fact, it must serve as the wake-up call that we clearly need.

In case you missed it, history was made last Tuesday when the Aquarion Water Co. pumped 140 million gallons of water to its customers. That number, the largest amount delivered in the company's 153-year history, represents an increase of approximately 60 million gallons above normal daily consumption.

In the face of this unprecedented demand, Aquarion urged customers to cut back on water usage wherever possible.

"We're afraid that if people don't conserve, that there might not be enough water for everybody," said Aquarion spokesman Bruce Silverstone.

This call for conservation -- first made last Wednesday morning -- was extended into Friday of this week, as demand continues to soar and supplies have not yet returned to sufficient levels.

Clearly, the conservation of water, like any other natural resource, is more important today than at any other point in human history.

Fortunately, we are increasingly aware that this beautiful earth can only offer so much, can only take so much. And many of us have rightfully made a conscious effort to spark the change that we wish to see -- and need to see -- in the world.

We recycle; we reuse; we don't drive around waiting for a parking spot, we walk farther; we pick up litter on the street and on open space trails; we purchase locally grown food; drive electric cars and install solar panels on our roofs; and we buy products from companies that share these same values.

That is great. But we can, and must, do more.

Yes, it can seem overwhelming trying to change the world. You may wonder: Where should I start? What do I need to do? What shouldn't I do? And on and on ... all the while trying to work, raise children and manage life's seemingly endless responsibilities.

It can be exhausting just talking about it. Yet it can also be fun -- a new and exciting challenge for you and your family, your community, your nation.

Come to think of it, why haven't our town leaders, local civic organizations -- and Aquarion, for that matter -- creatively approached this problem, say, by creating a contest to see who -- residents and businesses -- can cut back the most on water consumption? Rewards can range from being featured on the contest host's website to a credit on a water bill, or a feature in this newspaper. (We're certainly willing to support a worthwhile endeavor like that.)

A positive attitude makes all the difference when facing a challenge. So, as not to overwhelm you with a litany of life-changing sustainable initiatives to implement in your life, we will instead focus on one: water conservation.

Here are a few suggestions on how you can help cut back on your water usage now and in the future:

"¢ Take shorter showers, and less frequent in some cases (anything more than two seems excessive).

"¢ Turn the water off when brushing teeth, scrubbing dishes and washing hands; and don't turn the pressure on all the way.

"¢ If you wash your car, don't leave the hose running; fill a bucket.

"¢ Only water grass and plants when absolutely necessary. I know, some people spend a pretty penny keeping their property in pristine condition. But let's be honest, this is not a need and can be put off during this time of need. Also, consider setting up or purchasing a rain-collection bucket and using the accumulated precipitation for your yard-watering needs.

"¢ Only run the dishwasher and washing machine when they're full.

Aquarion is also recommending that residents adhere to the following guidelines:

"¢ Those who live at odd-numbered addresses water lawns and gardens on odd-numbered days, from 5 to 9 a.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Those at even-numbered residences water lawns and gardens on even-numbered days during those same hours.

"¢ Defer washing boats and cars for one week.

While some of these suggestions may not seem like that big a deal, remember that if we all do a little it will add up to a lot. Plus, it's better to act now before the situation gets worse and the measures to deal with it are more drastic.

Even when the demand for water returns to normal levels, we must not return to our normal usage patterns -- unless, of course, conservation is the norm.