Urban Sustainability Blog #5: Conserving the Nectar of Life - Water

In our last post in this urban sustainability blog series, we talked about waste reduction within and outside of the home. In this post, we’ll be talking about another way that Ontarians can reduce their environmental footprint – water reduction. (Photo: David Kovalenko)

Water is one of the most important natural resources humans use, if not the most important one. Water is crucial to life, both from a health and lifestyle perspective. To avoid dehydration and other ailments, it’s recommended for people to drink about 2L per day, and use 3L per day for cooking. For basic living purposes overall, the United Nations says that a human being needs a minimum of 50L per day to prepare meals, maintain personal hygiene, etc. However, water usage varies wildly across different places. In Africa, people are often forced to make do with 20L of water per day, while here in Canada, people average about 330L per day. This figure is second only to the United States in the developed world, and over twice the amount that Europeans use.

This kind of water disparity is almost unimaginable, yet it’s something that we often don’t pay much mind to, simply because of how simple it is for us to access water. With a simple twist of the faucet, we have access to what seems like unlimited quantities of water, which can make it easy to be a little less mindful than we should be with regards to water consumption. But with available freshwater making up less than 1% of all available water on the planet, it’s time for us to step up by being more conscious of the water we use.

Reducing water consumption within the home has multiple positive implications. The overall water consumption of a city is reduced, which means there is less pressure on surrounding water sources, like the Great Lakes here in Ontario. As well, less wastewater is produced, which means there is less demand for expensive wastewater treatment plants. Though it might seem daunting, there are plenty of small steps we can take to change our habits with regards to water consumption.

Baby Steps

So, how do we make a difference? Well, the first thing to do is to start small, and be conscious of our daily habits while using the faucets at home. This means not letting the tap run while brushing your teeth/washing your face/washing dishes, and taking shorter showers. Running the tap or the shower uses up almost 12L of water per minute, which adds up to a significant amount of water throughout the day! 

There are also other small personal changes that can be made in the home. For example, switching to foaming soaps allows people to only use water for rinsing, as opposed to soaping up and rinsing, though there is the tradeoff of increased plastic consumption coming from foaming soaps, which is something else to take into account, as there are pros and cons for both. Choosing showers over baths will also save plenty of water. 

Swapping Out the Old for the New (and Improved)

Another change you can make has to do with your toilet. You’ll want to start by making sure it doesn’t leak. You can determine this by putting food colouring in your toilet tank and seeing if it seeps into the toilet bowl without flushing. If so, you have a leak, which, when fixed, can potentially save up over 3000L per month. If your toilet is an older model, consider having it swapped out for a new low flush model, which uses between 3-6L per flush, as compared to older toilets, which can use between 13-26L per flush. If that's not possible, even something as simple as placing a brick inside your toilet tank can significantly reduce water used per flush. In addition, there are few less common, but equally viable, options such as dry toilets or composting toilets, which may be worth at least a consideration. Purchasing new water-saving appliances, like toilets, washing machines, showers, and dishwashers can be an upfront investment that could lead to a lot of saved water, not to mention expenses on your monthly water bill, in the long run. 

 Carol Caldas

(Photo: Carol Caldas)

Reuse & Recycle

There are other strategies that can be implemented concerning gardens, for those of us for whom it’s applicable. For example, reusing household produced water (“greywater”) from dishwashing, etc. as gardening water is a great idea. Using mulch on top of the soil in a garden helps preserve more water in the soil, as it prevents evaporation.

Reduction of water consumption is not a fully cut and dry issue. A phenomenon known as the “Jevons paradox” is applicable here. Named after economist William Jevons, it refers to the idea that “technological progress increases the efficiency with which a resource is used (reducing the amount necessary for any one use), but the rate of consumption of that resource rises due to increasing demand.” It is commonly referenced in environmental economics, and water is an excellent example. For example, if the water saved by households is then used in development of new condos, water usage in total increases and water scarcity becomes a bigger issue. 

Overall, however, reducing water consumption is one of the biggest ways we can impact the environment. It’s one of those issues where individuals’ small changes add up to create a big impact. With a little up-front effort, we can all go a long way in ensuring water scarcity in developed countries is not exacerbated, and we can all reduce our individual and collective water footprints. 

Next week, we’ll be wrapping up our urban sustainability blog series, so stay tuned for our final post!

 Part 5 of Urban Sustainability Blog Series by Mira Merchant and Cristian Hurtado 

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