Monday, October 01, 2012

The "why" of Water Conservation

How much water did you use today?
Let's take a minute to go through the activities that a typical person may do in a day in North America.
  • Wake up.
  • Brush teeth with water.
  • Take a 5 minute or more long shower with water, prepare and eat breakfast using water to wash food, cutlery, and containers; make or buy coffee made with water.
  • Get to work and fill a cup with more coffee or water; use the washroom and flush toilet with water; wash hands with soap and water.
  • Have lunch, drink water-based beverage, wash cutlery and containers with water.
  • Go home, have dinner, drink water-based beverage, do dishes with water.
  • Water lawn and garden with water.
  • Wash a load of laundry with water using a few rinse cycles.
  • Wash the car if you just have too much energy.
  • And finally, a shower with water and another drink or two, brushing your teeth with water, use washroom and flush toilet with water.
  • Go to bed.
  • Rinse and repeat ad infinitum.
 So, the answer to the question, "How much water did you use today?", is quite simple: we use a ****load of water.

However, this depends on which part of the continent you live in, and how available and expensive water is. These factors affect your cultural programming and mindset when it comes to water consumption. For example, a person in living in bone-dry Las Vegas has different water usage patterns than someone in Chicago, which is parked next to the Great Lakes. And to take it to more extremes, a person in a third-world country where clean water is scarce may use a fraction of what a person in North America use.

The worst part of all of this is that if you're on municipal water, it is all treated to be potable (i.e. safe to drink). Even if you're on a well, you probably drink the same water you use to flush a toilet with. But let's not get into this now - it's a huge topic for another time.

Now, think about how much of that water does not have to be potable (i.e. non-potable). Think about which activities can be accomplished safely with dirtier water. Think about how much energy, work, and material are put into treating that water to potable standards and conveying it to your home by a municipality. Think about how much energy, work, and material are put into conveying that used water away from your home to be treated. And finally, let's put it all together and do the same for every business and industrial user of water out there.

From a basic efficiency standpoint, there is something wrong with the equation above. When you factor in the financial cost of everything and the fact that municipal water rates that consumers pay are subsidized (i.e. taxpayers all share the cost and don't pay the full price), you may start to ask questions.

Luckily, the first tenet of water conservation is education.