Turning Off The Tap: Taking Water For Granted

Photo by [f]oxymoron | flickr.com

The other day, I woke up to news that my water would be off for a few hours due to construction. I realized I wouldn’t be able to flush the toilet, shower, or boil water for food, but these were obvious downfalls that I thought I could easily deal with for a few hours.

A while later, I went to grab a drink and turned on the tap, forgetting the water was off. Shortly after that, I ate some leftovers and went to wash my hands, again neglecting the fact that the water wasn’t on. This kept happening - daily situations where I’d just completely forget that water wasn’t available. It seemed so intuitive that I could just turn on the tap whenever I needed to. Instances like these make me remember just how much we as Canadians forget how privileged we are to have an endless flow of treated drinking water. It also reminds me how much we take it for granted.

The world water shortage isn’t exactly news. We’ve known for years that, although water is a “renewable resource,” we’re using up too much of it too fast and constantly, breaking its natural cycle. When my water was off the other day, I realized I didn’t need pristine drinking water to wash my hands - I could have used untreated lake water, or something along those lines. So why do we treat such huge volumes of water when only a portion of it is actually used for consumption or hygienic reasons? 

Almost one billion people in the world do not have access to clean drinking water, but here in Canada we literally poop on the fluoridated, disinfected, filtered, uncontaminated, and otherwise optimally treated water we receive. I find it mindboggling to think that my dog drinks out of the toilet because it is treated to perfection for drinking purposes - this is water that one billion people in the world would love to have access to, and we are using it to flush our waste.

We are the generation that has actually been experiencing the implementation of sustainable living practices. It started with green bins and recycling incentives, and has moved on to LEED certification and carpool lanes. What’s next? When you find a house of your own, consider in-home water recycling systems: they’re one of the simplest ways to directly reduce huge amounts of water consumption. 

“Grey water” is a term referring to the wastewater from our showers and baths, kitchen, sinks, and laundry, that is, wastewater excluding toilet water. By implementing an in-home connection system, grey water can be re-used to flush household toilets and water lawns, instead of using freshly treated drinking water. Think about how many litres you flush in a year… without low-flush toilets it’s about 20 litres per flush, say 6 flushes a day, and that’s 43,800 litres of water for one person in a year. Like most sustainability incentives, the initial cost of setup for in-home grey water treatment can be a setback, but the amount of water and money saved in the long run is significant.

At your municipal plant, less than 1% of water treated to drinkable standards is actually used for drinking, isn’t it about time we stopped being so wasteful?