Wednesday, March 26, 2008

One drop at a time

There are a number of painless changes that can be incorporated into daily rituals with little or no inconvenience that can significantly lower your personal energy consumption and water usage. Some may seem drastic, but most are the kinds of changes that so easily become second nature after a surprisingly short while. For instance, when I was a teenager and became concerned with water conservation, I adopted the practice of not letting the water run while brushing my teeth. Sounds simple, doesn't it? The thing is that turning the tap off while brushing your teeth can save 5 (or more) litres of water a minute. Let's assume that it takes me four minutes to brush my teeth and that I do so three times a day. That's 60 litres of water a day --21900 litres a year. If I've been doing this roughly 20 years, that means I've saved 438,000 litres of water. That's almost twice the amount used to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and it's something I don't even think twice about doing anymore. Letting the water run would now feel weird.

Recent accounts in the media show an increase in droughts or boil orders hitting populated areas in North America, where water's previously been treated as an unlimited resource. As we continue to pollute our water supply and divert it to factory farms, and as global warming continues to affect our climate and water tables, expect to see this worsening. People living outside of cities and who rely on wells for their water -- whether they're on homesteads or merely living in less populous areas -- are likely much more aware of this than the average city-dweller. Sometimes you've just gotta live it to accept it.

In the interim, here are a few other really small changes that are easy to
incorporate into your life to conserve water:

1) When you run the tap waiting for hot water to come out, collect it in water cans for your houseplants or for the garden. Same with any water you allow to run out the tap to warm up before you take a shower.

2) Start taking shorter showers and install a water-saving shower head. Skimming a minute or two off your total can save over 2500 litres of water a month per person. My father used to take ''navy showers'' from years of working as a lumberjack in wooded areas where obtaining usable water involved lotsa lugging. Not wasting water had become second nature to him. Read more about navy showers here.

3) Only run your washing machine or dishwasher when they are full (or when doing lau
ndry, match the water level to the size of the load).

4) If washing dishes by hand, don't let the rinse water run. If you have two sinks, u
se one to wash and fill the other with rinse water. Do the same when rinsing produce -- rinse it in the sink or in a bowl, rather than running the water (and use the water from the rinsed produce for your houseplants).

5) Keep a pitcher of water in the fridge rather than letting water run to get it cold enough for a drink.

6) Use aerators on all of your faucets.

7) Use a low-flow toilet, or fill a jar with water and put it in the tank. Consider adhering to the following: If it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down.

8) Cook food in as little water as possible. To enable this, use proper-sized pots and pans. Not only does this save water, but it minimizes the loss of nutrients during the cooking process. Save the water you use in a container and throw it in your freezer to use later to make soup (or to boil whole grains or rice).

9) Water your vegetable garden in the morning to minimize evaporation from heat. Use mulch to retain moisture in the soil.

These are just a fraction of the small changes or habits that will enable to average urban dweller to start adopting a less water-wasteful mindset. The truth is that there are so many more things that can be done every single time you turn on the tap.

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