March 22nd marked World Water Day, a day used to highlight how important fresh water is to the planet and how much of the world’s population struggles to get reliable clean freshwater every day. Canadians are the second largest users of water in the world with an astounding 343 litres per day per capita. Only the Americans use more than we do, coming in at 382 litres per capita. Our large use of water is mostly due to a lack of awareness as well as underpricing for its use by municipalities.
If you live in or near the Greater Toronto Area you will know that the conservation efforts by municipalities have resulted in a 10% decrease in water use by citizens and businesses. While this is a good thing, the municipalities are complaining that their water treatment facilities are going broke due to a lack of revenue from water use. Hmm, clearly there’s a problem – but it’s not conservation. A water scarcity threat map of Canada shows that southwestern Ontario and the prairies are the two places in Canada where water scarcity threats exist.
In the event that there is a water shortage in your area this summer and beyond, or if your rates go up, or you just want to be a better citizen, here are some tips from cheapest and easiest, to the most expensive and invasive to achieve. The most effective way to conserve water in your home is to change out your toilet if you have the old 12 gallon one to a 0.8 gallon/3 L toilet. You’ll be using 1/12 the water to flush that you used to. That’s a lot of water!
Gray water on the cheap: Gray water is reusing water that has already been used for one purpose so it’s not completely sanitary, but is good enough to use for a secondary, non-food oriented purpose, such as flushing toilets. Recently, I became aware of an awesome woman named Béa Johnson, a French woman married to an American, living in northern California. She has written a book on the subject of living without creating any waste. They are a family of four and they produce under one kilogram of garbage annually.
Now that Bea’s waste situation is under control, she’s tackling other areas of her family’s lives like water. There is a recent post on her blog about what she’s doing to conserve water with some great handy tips that don’t cost, well, anything. From collecting shower water to flush toilets (just pour the water from a bucket into the bowl and the toilet will flush), to collecting kitchen water that’s used for rinsing dishes or when you’re waiting for it to warm up, let it run into a portable container to use for outdoor plants and garberators, and flushing toilets.
Note that gray water can’t stand more than a few hours on its own without starting to develop bacteria, so if you haven’t used it all by the end of the day then flush it down the toilet at night. It could save you some precious gallons here and there and every drop counts.
For more information on living the Zero Waste lifestyle, visit Béa’s blog or get her book.
Toilets: toilets are the largest consumers of water in the house, so if you need to change them out make sure to look for a low-flush toilet. There are great 3L toilets made by Proficiency. They’re relatively inexpensive and flush well. As I always say, if you’re worried about the low-flow toilets not performing up to par, check out the Wastewater guide MaP (maximum performance) ratings published jointly by the California Urban Water Conservation Council and the Canadian Waste Water Association. They will help you select a toilet that can flush as much as 1 kg of solids without a problem. Another great toilet is the the Sydney 0.8 by Caroma. It is virtually clogless and if you have teenage boys, you will understand why this is so important! See my earlier post “Beyond the Six Litre Toilet.”
Showerheads and faucets: Teenagers spend an inordinate amount of time in the shower. There are tricks to use that will help get them out. For instance, I have a friend who lives in a quirky old house where the hot water shut off valve is accessible through a panel in the neighboring bedroom. So, if the kids have been in there too long wasting valuable hot water and adding dollar signs to both her gas and water bill, she turns off the hot water. It gets the kids out pretty quickly. Granted, not all of us have quirky houses where shut off valves are accessible outside the bathroom, so there are other ways of conserving water from adding shower timers — not all that effective for teens but good for motivated adults, and of course water-sense certified shower heads. Delta, Oxygenics and Bricor showerheads are three brands that come to mind, but there are plenty out there and they’re vastly improved from the days when the shampoo wouldn’t rinse out of your hair giving you “flat head” syndrome à la Kramer from Seinfeld.
The next time you are looking for a faucet find one that’s WaterSense certified. For the kitchen a dual-flow faucet is best: faucets can alternate between low-flow (the default setting) and full flow for filling pots and sinks without taking forever, such as the Delta Multiflow faucet.
Washing Machines: Most of us think of front-end loaders as the only water efficient washers on the market. A few people shy away from them because they don’t relish getting down on their knees to do the laundry, and if not properly balanced, they can make a lot of noise while spinning. Washers also consume a good amount of water, so make sure you do a full-load and not just that single pair of jeans, and if you’re in the market for a new washer look for an Energy Star certified brand. Here is a good website to help you find a new washer: Toptenusa.org and a great article from Apartment Therapy: The Best Energy Efficient Washers.
Graywater systems: If you’re building a new house, adding an addition or gutting an older home, it is the perfect time to incorporate some water and energy efficiency measures. Gray water systems collect shower water, treat it and store it for use in the home’s toilets and can help you reduce your household water consumption by up to 40%. They are best incorporated into an addition/gut job or new home construction.
Rain water cisterns: There are many different kinds of cisterns available to catch rain water from simple rain barrels that hook up to your home’s downspout, to underground or between wall cisterns that store plenty of water. In times of water bans, you can still maintain your garden. The Aquascape RainXchange is an underground cistern, , the Rainwater HOG, or a rain barrel. Rain barrels are often available as a subsidized or free option through municipal programs. Check your municipalities website or rainbarrel.ca to see if there is a program near you.
Note: not all municipalities across North America allow rain barrels/cisterns for private water collection; check with your municipality to make sure you can use one.
Always check your area’s average annual rainfall to calculate the size of the container you might need.
Drought resistant landscaping (xeriscaping): To use less water outside, use local and drought resistant plants and drip irrigation for watering. Water at night to prevent evaporation. Most lawns use Kentucky Blue grass which will become dormant in times of drought. In most cases will turn green once the rains return. If possible, it’s best to try to shrink your lawn to minimal size to ease water and mowing demands.
Waterless Carwash: There are several waterless carwash products on the market that allow you to wash your car without water. Canadian Tire sells Goclean waterless carwash, but there are plenty of others.