Water of life: Re – thinking our relationship with our most precious resource

 Water is the most precious natural resource on the planet. With the imminent introduction of water charges, the whole country is thinking about water usage. Regardless of one’s opinion on water charges, as a nation we must address our often wasteful use of water, particularly as we can expect uneven distribution of rain in the future. We discuss some of the main issues around water usage and a number of ways in which we can use it more sustainably, and keep our bills down.

water epa

Humans are made up of about 65% of the stuff, we need it to keep us alive and wash ourselves with. Clean water is so important to human survival and quality of life. We are lucky in Ireland that we have access to clean water and that we have the infrastructure to treat and distribute it. However it does cost a lot to treat water so that it is of drinkable quality and if our rivers and lakes are polluted the cost of treatment can be very high. It is often assumed that we don’t need to worry about how much water we use as it rains so much here. This is not quite the case. In recent weeks, off shore islands, including The Aran islands and Cape Clear, have had to import up to 50,000 litres of water per day, as a result of the dry weather.

It is predicted that climate change will lead to drier summers, resulting in certain parts of the country becoming affected by drought, while the population of the driest parts of Ireland, along the east coast, will increase.

 What can I do?

 Using Less Water

Saving water often comes down to awareness and monitoring usage. An average Irish person uses 150 litres of water every day, much of which is flushed away, although this figure can vary greatly. For example, a seven minute power shower uses about 175 litres of water compared to 49 in a conventional shower – a massive difference! By simply doing things like taking shorter showers we can make a difference.

 Using water more efficiently

Another very simple step comes down to using water in a more efficient manner. Not leaving taps running, having leaks fixed and only using water when necessary all help. If you turn your tap off when brushing your teeth you can save 6 litres of water per minute, and up to 7,000 litres per year. Furthermore, devices such as washing machines, which use large amounts of water should only be used when full.

 Grey Water

Bathrooms see the most water use, with toilet flushing accounting for about 40% of a household’s average water usage. In many countries around the world, you will find cisterns with dual flush options, which limit the amount of water used. An alternative to this would be to use a toilet displacement device, which can either be purchased very cheaply, or home made. It is a device, such as a plastic bottle or tube, filled with water, which you place in the cistern. This displaces some of the water needed to flush the toilet, and it can save you up to 3 litres of water per flush. A device can be made from an empty juice bottle or carton, of about 1.5 – 2 litres. You fill it to add weight to it, which will then displace the water. At least a part of it should be filled with sand or gravel, so that it does not bounce around the cistern.  Another option, is the recycling of grey water from showers and washing machines. While this water may appear dirty, it is perfectly fine to use in the garden. Grey water recycling kits or pipe add ons can be purchased at a low cost.

Rainwater Collection

It is a  shame that we don’t make maximum use of our abundant rainfall.  Rainwater collection tanks or rainwater harvesters are excellent and can be hooked up to domestic water tanks. Usually rainwater is used for non-drininking uses but there are add-on devices available to make rainwater drinkable. . At a simple level, tanks and barrels can be used to collect rainwater for garden use, saving your mains supply.

Water butts are tanks, of around 200 litres, that are connected to the end of downpipes, diverting rainwater from drains, allowing it to be collected and used in the garden.  More complex tanks can be purchased with filtration systems and pumping mechanisms. In many countries rain water collection is very common and is heavily encouraged due to extremely dry conditions. Earlier this year, former Minister for the Environment, Phil Hogan, announced plans to introduce legislation requiring all new builds to have rainwater harvesters installed, stating that this could reduce household consumption by 50%.

 Conclusion

Water will only become an even bigger issue in the future. We can save ourselves money and do our bit to conserve our most precious natural resource by following some of the steps above.

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