Water down the drain.

 Image by Andrew Magill | flickr.com

Image by Andrew Magill | flickr.com

Every month people around the world move into new homes, and whether apartments or ranch estates, a new abode is likely to come with new discoveries like an odd smelling cupboard, a light switch with no apparent purpose, or a leaky faucet. I recently had the pleasure of moving into a new apartment and have been privy to some out of the ordinary excitement. Something that stuck out for me was the experience of my first shower in the new apartment; I felt like Kramer in the Seinfeld episode where he is ravaged by his hyperactive showerhead. The jet stream was so intense it hurt my nipples, and the pressure of the water caused the shower curtain to float up like an apparition. On top of my newfound nipple pain, I was suddenly struck by the incredible amount of water coming out of the showerhead, and my mind wandered and wondered down the drain, thinking of all that wasted water and the costs that go with it.

Water is one of the few things that everyone can agree is absolutely essential to human health and well being. In places like Eastern Africa, where droughts are becoming more common with the onset of climate change, people are faced with this reality time and time again. A lack of water in a place like Ethiopia drives famine and malnutrition, and the lack of clean water in developing countries is a leading cause of illness. Drought can lead people to migrate away from their traditional lands, leading to health issues and potential conflicts. However, in a country with a seemingly vast supply of clean freshwater, people can become disconnected from the finite supply of water on this planet, even as they recognize water’s paramount importance in their daily lives. The World Health Organization, World Wildlife Fund, World Bank, the United Nations, and countless other organizations have all come out in support of water conservation and protection, recognizing the finite supply of freshwater available to the human population and the importance of quality drinking water. But in a country like Canada, with pressure geysers for showerheads and a large supply of freshwater (though not as large as some would have us believe), how can someone like me tackle the water conservation problem? Well, at a personal level I can start by changing my showerhead, and I can take it further by demonstrating the cost savings potential to my landlord/property owner.

There are some simple tools online that can help people to figure all of this out. The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation and ConsumerReport.org have easy to follow webpages that show you how to determine if new showerheads are worth the investment. A BC Hydro webpage shows consumers the cost savings a family of three can see by switching to water saving technologies. Considering that showers can take up to 15% of a home’s energy costs, and hot water uses up to 25% of a home’s energy costs, it’s not surprising that the payback period on showerheads in Canada is less than a year. Further, from a pure conservation perspective, low flow showerheads can save over 26,000 litres of hot water. In a 60 unit building where the owner of the property is paying for the hot water bills, even if we assume a single occupancy per housing unit, the total water saved by introducing low flow showerheads would be 720,000 litres of hot water, and between $1,600 and $2,000 dollars per year. If those units held two people or three people, savings could be $4,000-$6,000 annually.

Not bad for a few showerheads, eh?

Well, I just spoke with my building manager and I was told that my showerhead is the default showerhead throughout the building, and that most people end up replacing their showerheads while they live in the building. I’m guessing that most people end up replacing their showerheads because of reasons similar to Kramer and me, but I hope that some of them have thought through how much water means in our every day life. Water is just one of those things that you don’t realize is so paramount in our lives until its gone. My landlord agreed to bring the issue up with management, but there is a political element, and she needs to approach the right person at the right time. Ain't it always the way?

At least at a personal level we can take action immediately. We can pay attention to ongoing issues in water management, think about what we put into our local water supply (any chemicals going to the drain?), and consider changing that showerhead.

And, finally, don’t wash your vegetables in the shower. No one wants that salad.

This article was originally posted by Sustainable Collective, which has since joined forces with The Starfish Canada.