Water: No Time to Waste - A consumer's guide to water conservation
Table of Contents
- Why Water
An introduction describing why water conservation is so important.
- Water View
The water cycle, water treatment and use.
- Water Wise
The three golden rules of water conservation: reduce, repair and retrofit.
- In the Kitchen
Wise water management starts in the kitchen.
- In the Bathroom
Stemming the flow in the largest water waster in the home -- the bathroom.
- In the Utility Room
Coming clean while keeping green and saving water.
- In the Outdoors
How to conserve water when summer rolls around.
- Water Works
A potpourri of water information, from the cityscape to the countryside.
- Water Marks
How much water the typical family can save. Turning litres into dollars and sense.
- Water Log
The bottom line: How do you measure up?
- Water Resources
Where to go, now that you've whetted your appetite for more information.
This guide is about water conservation, and what we can do to reduce the use of one of our most precious, yet undervalued, resources -- water!
Why is water conservation so important? Because a safe and secure supply of water is no longer the "sure thing" it may have been just a few years ago. While demand for water is on the rise, pollution, declining water tables, and prolonged drought conditions are shrinking the usable supply.
We need to reassess our attitudes about water, and water conservation. We use water everyday at home and at work in so many situations that we take it pretty much for granted.
Water passes through our households, cooking our food, bathing us, washing our clothes, watering our lawns and carrying away the various by-products of our day-to-day lives. We return it to the environment, often to the same body of water it came from, usually in a much poorer state.
When we understand how water cycles through the environment, we begin to appreciate the significant role we can play in improving the quality and protecting the quantity of our water resource, by practising some basic rules of conservation.
Although water comes out of our taps and goes down our drains, we would be mistaken to think that it's a one-way trip. In fact,water continually cycles through the environment, and both water treatment and water use rely on this cycle.
This illustration suggests that, for many Canadian water users,water isn't just used, it is re-used! A sobering thought next time you flush the toilet and then brush your teeth or drink a glass of water.
When we think of water in this fashion, we can begin to appreciate the significance water conservation can have on the natural environment. The less water we use, or abuse, the less we degrade this precious natural resource -- and the less we have to spend bringing our water resource back to an acceptable standard for public use.
Our abuses extend beyond the eighteen litre toilet flush or the indiscriminate watering of our lawn before, during or after a rain-storm -- these are water quantity abuses. However, few of us stop to think about some of the common household chemicals we pour down our drains, flush down our toilets and spray onto our lawns and gardens -- our waterqualityabuses.
Combined with influences from industrial and agricultural pollution and leaking landfill sites, residential impacts are taking their toll on water quality.
Reports in the media about communities with contaminated sources of drinking water are increasing in frequency from one end of Canada to the other. These impacts on water quality are an added factor limiting the supply of water available for use. In other words, we are pushing the water cycle beyond its natural limits.
Water conservation can help give this cycle the breathing space it needs. Treating our water resource with care and respect -- using it wisely and returning it to the environment in at least the same condition which we found it -- will ensure that this cycle works for us well into the future.
Water wisdom begins at home, by becoming aware of our water using habits. Most of us waste so much water we can easily cut back. Water conservation doesn't mean cramping our lifestyles by doing without; it simply means reducing the amount of water we waste.
It all boils down to common sense, an understanding of the water cycle and the role we play in this cycle. Becoming water wise, by following the steps outlined in this guide, can: reduce water waste; reduce water and energy costs for the household; and, help improve the environment. Being water wise can be habit forming!
Water is essential to life and to our daily lives. We use it to cook, to clean, to keep our lawns and gardens green and growing, and for a dozen other uses everyday. And that adds up to a lot of water.
In fact, compared to Europeans, we use more than twiceas much water.
Each of us uses about 329 litres of water each day (based on 2004 statistics). Of that, 30% is flushed down the toilet. Another 35% is used in showers and baths. Clothes washing takes about 20%. Another 10% is used in the kitchen for drinking, food preparation and dish washing. And, 5% goes for general cleaning around the house.
When summer rolls around, and it's time to water the lawn and wash the car, household water use can increase by 50% or more!
Whenever we use water, there's a potential for water savings. This guide will illustrate where and how you can use water more wisely both inside and outside the home.
Following the three golden rules of water conservation -- reduce, repair, and retrofit-- we can easily cut our water use nearly in half.
It's surprising how much water gets wasted. We just let it run down the drain. Become conscious of the amount of water you're using and look for ways to use less whenever you can.
A leak of one drop per second wastes 10 000 litres of water a year. Most leaks are simple to find and easily fixed, at low or no cost.
Retrofit means adapting or replacing an older, less water efficient fixture or appliance with one of the many water saving devices now on the market.
In the Kitchen
There are many small steps you can take that add up to big water savings in the kitchen. These range from how you cook to how you clean up.
- Take foods out of the freezer early to allow plenty of time to thaw. Thawing frozen goods under a running tap wastes water.
- Clean fruits and vegetables in a partially filled sink and rinse them quickly.
- When boiling vegetables, use only enough water to cover the foods. Steaming uses even less water while conserving more nutrients.
- Keep a bottle of drinking water in the refrigerator. That way, you don't have to let your tap run to get cold water when you want a drink.
- Fill the dishwasher before you turn it on. It can use from 30 to 45 litres per cycle. Washing by hand uses about the same,each time you wash, so use the dishwasher once a day and save.
- Turn your taps off tightly but gently so they don't drip. And repair any leaks in and around your taps and faucets without delay.
Water efficient faucet aerators are a good idea in the kitchen because they reduce water flow. They can, however, cause problems with some dishwashers that hook up to the faucet and require an unrestricted flow.
Home water treatment systems are a necessity in some parts of the country, but their water consumption can be considerable.
Water treatment/softening systems are designed to remove calcium and magnesium -- the minerals that cause scaly deposits on faucets and shower heads, spots on dishes, and rings around the bathtub.
But, a mid-sized system can use about 350 litres of water every time it regenerates the softening agent. If this backflushing happens several times a months, it can add up to 10 000 litres of water flushed down the drain each year.
If you must use a water conditioning system, make sure it is the type that regenerates only when necessary, not a fixed time or water volume basis.
Home water filtration systems are designed to take impurities out of your water and make it safer to drink. They too, can waste a lot of water doing their job. Reverse osmosis systems, for example, return only 10% to 20% of the water that flows through them. The rest goes down the drain. Some filters cause more problems than they solve, increasing the bacteria count of the water that flows through them. Remember to change filters as recommended by the manufacturer.
Sink garbage disposal systems are water wasters as well. In order for them to work properly, you must run the tap. Depending on how often the unit is used, it may consume hundreds of litres of water each week. Consider composting your kitchen wastes instead.
Making water safe to drink
Before water reaches our taps it undergoes a thorough purification process. Water is pumped, either from a municipal well, lake or river, into a sedimentation tank, where sand, dirt and other impurities settle to the bottom of the tank.
The suspended sediments in the water -- those microscopic particles too small to see -- are treated with chemicals, causing them to sink to the bottom.
Depending on the "hardness" of the water, a lime slurry may be added as a water softener. The water may also pass through an activated carbon filter to remove harmful chemicals and unpleasant odours, tastes and colours. Sand filters then remove fine particles and other impurities still in the water.
In the final stage, the water is disinfected, often with chlorine, to destroy disease-causing bacteria still remaining in the water. At this stage, some municipalities add fluoride.
Water is then pumped to reservoirs or directly into the municipal water supply system and eventually into your home.
Communities which practise water conservation help ensure there will always be a plentiful water supply for all users and will reduce treatment costs at both ends of the cycle.
Getting the lead out
If your water pipes are made of lead or soldered with lead, run your water for a few minutes in the morning, and again when you get home from work. While this might seem contradictory, it does get the lead out. A water-saving alternative to running your taps each morning is to fill the kettle or coffee-maker at night, when the lead content in the water is low. Remember to use water from the cold water tap for cooking. The higher the temperature of the water coming out of the pipes, the higher the lead content.
In the Bathroom
The bathroom accounts for about 65% of the water used inside the home. Since we waste the most here, it's also the area where potential water savings are the greatest -- and, the easiest to obtain.
A few water-wise habits will save you thousands of litres of water each year.
- You can save 10 to 20 litres of water each time you shave by filling the basin, instead of letting the water run continuously.
- Turn off the tap while brushing your teeth, and use short bursts of water for rinsing.
- Turn off the taps tightly but gently so they do not drip.
- A quick shower uses less hot water than a bath in a full tub. If you prefer the bath, don't overfill the tub; 1/2 full should be enough.
- If you're taking a bath, put in the plug and turn on the hot water. Let it run until the water gets hot before adjusting the temperature with cold water.
- Flush the toilet only when necessary. Never use it as a wastebasket for tissue etc., and never flush paints, solvents or other chemicals down the toilet.
These are just a few examples. The more aware you become of your own water using habits, the more room you'll find for improvement.
To check if your plumbing system is leaking, locate your water meter and record the reading before going to bed, and again early in the morning, before any water use. Compare the two readings. If there is a difference, you've got a leak that needs to be fixed.
Leaking faucets can be deceptively large water wasters.A tap, leaking at a rate of only one drop per second, can waste more than 25 litres of water a day -- that's about 10 000 litres a year. The larger the leak, the more water is lost. The problem is often a worn-out washer, which costs pennies to replace.
Depending on the faucet type and your skill with a few tools, you can probably fix the problem yourself. If you're a little hesitant, consult a do-it-yourself book. Kits sold in plumbing supply stores often contain all the information you need.
A leaking toilet can do even more damage to your water conservation efforts. A toilet that continues to run after flushing can waste 200 000 litres of water in a single year-- enough water to fill a large inground swimming pool!
If the leak in your toilet is bad enough, you can usually hear the water running. That isn't the case with a small leak. Try this. Put some food colouring in the holding tank and wait about fifteen minutes. If the colour shows up in the bowl without the aid of a flush, you've got a leak. A silent leak like this can waste up to 45 litres of water per hour.
Toilet run-on usually means that the flush or flapper valve isn't sitting properly in the valve seat at the bottom of the tank. It may be that the valve needs replacing. This is an inexpensive item to replace. First, turn off the water inlet tap under the tank by turning it clockwise as far as it will go. Hold the flush lever down until the tank empties. Remove the valve assembly and take it to the store to ensure you get an exact match.
If the flapper is still serviceable, it may be that thevalve seat has corroded or that there is an accumulation of mineral deposits on the seat. If that's the case, dry the valve seat with a cloth, and sand it smooth again with a piece of emery paper.
Kinked flapper lift chains can also allow toilet run-on. When they kink, they prevent the flapper from closing properly on the valve seat. Replace them with the ball-type link chain which is less prone to kinking. Pay careful attention to the way the old chain is installed as you remove it and install the new one in the same manner, following the same route.
A leak at the base of the toilet? Call a professional.
Toilets: If your toilet is more than ten years old, it's probably a water-waster, using about 18 litres or more of water per flush. Over the course of a year, that means each of us uses about 30 000 litres of fresh, pure water to dispose of only 650 litres of body waste-- assuming 4.5 flushes per person per day.
There are many products that you can install in the tank of an existing toilet to reduce the amount of water used in a flush cycle. These devices fall into three generic categories:
- water displacement (plastic bag or bottle)
- water retention (toilet dams)
- alternative flushing (early closure or dual-flush).
See your local plumbing supply or hardware store to find out which type will work best for your toilet. Toilet dams are popular, because they are easy to install. They need to be checked periodically to ensure they have not slipped out of place. You'll save about 5 litres per flush using a set of two.
If your toilet was manufactured after 1985, it could be a water-conserving type which used about 13 litres per flush. These type usually have an insulated foam liner in the tank. If you have a toilet tank like this, try one toilet dam at one end of the tank first. Installing both dams in a set may cut water use too much and prevent the flush cycle from clearing the bowl -- leading to double flushing.
Don't put rocks or bricks in your tank because they can break down over time and cause damage.
If you do have an old toilet, it may be time to replace it with one of the many water efficient models that are now commercially available. Plumbing codes are changing and, in may parts of Canada, 6 litre ultra low flush toilets are already becoming standard in new construction and renovations.
Ultra low flush toilets generally use a smaller water reservoir or tank and a specially designed bowl to give you the same flush power but with a lot less water. A model using 6 litres per flush is your best choice if you really want to save water. For example, a 6-litre flush means nearly a 70% reduction in water use over the standard toilet.
Showers: There's nothing like a long hot shower -- which is why the shower is the second heaviest water user in the house, averaging flow rates of 15 to 20 litres per minute.
Your best bet is to install a low-flow shower head for which a 9.5 litres per minute flow rate is becoming the standard. This means a typical household could save up to 1000 litres of water each week -- not to mention extra savings on the energy bill. Again, plumbing codes are changing and, in many parts of Canada, these efficient showerheads will likely be the only type you will be able to buy within the next few years.
There are two types of low-flow shower heads: aerated and non-aerated. Aerated shower heads reduce the amount of water in the flow, but maintain pressure by mixing in air. It feels like a standard shower, complete with steady spray. With the non-aerated shower head, the water is "pulsed". If you're partial to massage showers, this one's for you.
Some low-flow shower heads have a built-in shut-off button. This allows you to stop the flow of water while you lather up or shampoo, and then resume at the same flow rate and temperature. Most CSA-approved showerheads and faucets will have their flow rates stamped on them, in either litres per minute or gallons per minute.
Faucets: Low-flow aerators can be attached to faucets as well. These can reduce the flow rate by 25-50%. They aren't recommended in utility rooms where large volumes of water are needed over a relatively short period of time.
Don't confuse low-flow aerators with standard screen aerators, which do not reduce the flow rate. Ask the store clerk if you're unsure.
How waste water is treated
If you live in the city, waste water that leaves your house may pass through up to three types of treatment. Primary treatment removes the solid material in settlement tanks. Secondary treatment removes organic material through biological means in aeration tanks. In some municipalities, water undergoes tertiary chemical treatment to help remove phosphates and kill most disease-causing bacteria.
The benefits of water conservation are evident even in the treatment process. Less waste water flowing through treatment plants means that costly new treatment capacity can be put on hold. And that eases the tax burden on your pocketbook.
If you live in the country you probably rely on a septic tank and tile field disposal system. Waste water enters the septic tank where solids settle to the bottom. Bacteria partially decompose the sludge and the effluent flows to the tile field or leaching bed where microbes in the soil complete the treatment process.
For people who rely on a septic tank, less waste water will prolong the working life of the septic system. It also means a margin of safety for your water supply, by lessening the chance of contaminants entering the water table from an overloaded septic system.
In the Utility Room
Cutting back on the amount of water you use for clothes washing will take a little forethought. You'll find, however, that your efforts will be doubly rewarded. Not only will you reduce water consumption but you'll be saving on energy costs as well .
Reduce and Retrofit
An automatic clothes washer can use from 150 to 250 litres of water for each cycle. That's about 20% of total indoor water use.
Many washers allow you to adjust the amount of water according to the size of the wash load. If yours doesn't, let the laundry build up until you have a full load before setting the machine in motion.
If you're investing in a washing machine, consider one of the new water efficient machines. Choose a washer that allows you to practice conservation by using features such as load size selector and variable water control.
Up to 90% of the energy used for washing clothes goes to heat the water. Washing in warm water not only cuts back on your energy bills, it's easier on your clothes.
When it comes to the hot water tank itself, a few simple measures will save you water, and cut back on your water heating bills. A family of four may spend as much as $600.00 per year to heat water. Depending on the type of tank, some of that energy is wasted as stand-by losses -- heat lost through the walls of the tank -- and, in the case of gas or oil units, as heat lost through the exhaust stack.
By setting the thermostat back to 50°C, and insulating the tank and the hot water pipes, you can reduce water heating costs by about 25% for an investment of under fifty dollars. And you'll save water at the same time. Because the insulation keeps the water hotter longer, less water is wasted running the tap to get the desired temperature.
You can construct a heat trap for under $25 and it will pay back in less than two years. Heat traps are easy to install; some can be snapped into place with plastic fasteners.
Tankless or point-of-use water heaters are another option. Tankless water heaters don't store hot water. They switch on after you turn on the tap and a heat exchanger heats the water as it travels to the spout. This eliminates both stand-by losses and heat lost through the hot water pipes. They are, however, an expensive option, and do not perform well in large households with large hot water demands. They are a good choice at the cottage.
Down the drain?
Many people who care a great deal about the environment think nothing of pouring household chemicals down the drain. When was the last time you cleaned a paint brush with turpentine and washed the whole works away? Or used a caustic drain opener to unplug the kitchen sink?
The careless disposal of motor oils, paints, solvents, cleaners and other household chemicals -- some of which are highly toxic and explosive -- down our toilets and drains can wreak havoc on waste treatment facilities and our aquatic environments.
Many of these chemicals can kill the bacteria which break down organic matter in sewage. Without these bacteria the treatment process is severely impaired. Further, many of these chemicals are resistant to any treatment. The result: polluted lakes, streams and groundwater.
There are environmentally friendly alternatives to these chemicals that do just as good a job, although some require a little more elbow grease.
So, how do you dispose of all those chemicals you have around the house now? They should never be poured down the drain!The local landfill site is no place for them either. They can seep into surrounding rivers or groundwater, and end up back in your drinking water.
Many municipalities have set up household toxic waste depots where trained experts decide on the best way to reuse, recycle or safely dispose of the material. Call your municipal office to find out how to dispose of your household chemicals.
In the Outdoors
During the summer months, the biggest drain on water resources is your lawn and garden. Many municipalities have instigated summer watering restrictions, based on time and day, to help control summer peak demands. Careful plant selection, coupled with wise watering habits on your part, can significantly reduce outdoor water use without affecting the lushness of your landscape.
Lawn and Landscaping: The average suburban lawn may need about 100 000 litres of water in a growing season. Ironically, we often over water, only to have it run off, or burn off with the sun. How many times have you seen an untended sprinkler watering a driveway or the sidewalk?
The best time to water is in the early morning – after the dew has dried – or in the late afternoon. Watering at these times cuts down on losses to evaporation. After a heavy rain, you may not need to water for a week or more.
As a general rule, your lawn and garden will need about 2 to 3 centimetres (1 inch) of water per week. One way to check whether you've applied enough water is to place a few plastic containers around your lawn when you water. That way you can measure how much water has been applied.
In many parts of the country, watering in the spring may do more harm than good to your plants. The less you water in the early part of the growing season, the deeper the roots grow, and the greater the natural reservoir your grass can tap.
However, if you live in the prairies, watering in the spring is essential, especially after a dry winter. But, be careful not to over water.
The same applies to fertilizer. Too fast a start, resulting in lush growth, sets plants up for a fall during times of drought. Slow-release organic fertilizers that ensure slow but steady growth work best. If you can get by without any fertilizer, so much the better.
When it comes to watering plants and flower beds, drip irrigation is the most effective method. With drip irrigation, porous tubes deliver small quantities of water directly to the root zone.
If you use a hose, apply water slowly at the base of each plant – not on the leaves. Soaker hoses, with holes turned toward the ground, are best for this purpose. Some types are buried in the root zone. A long, slow watering done once a week is better than several short quick ones, which may actually do more harm than good.
If you use a sprinkler for your lawn, choose the type that spins in a circle. This type lays down water in a flat pattern in large droplets which drop to the soil surface, thus minimizing evaporative losses. The oscillating type which cycles back and forth applies water in a fine spray straight up part of the time, leading to higher evaporation losses. This type is also more susceptible to wind effects which may blow the spray onto adjacent pavement.
Check sprinklers frequently for proper direction and even spray pattern and set a timer to remind you to turn off the water, or install an automatic timer which shuts the water off after a preset time interval.
Water from the sky is free, so make use of it. Cisterns are perfect for catching rain-water from the roof for use on your lawn or garden. Channel downspouts into barrels, buckets, or holding tanks, to collect water for later use.
Once you've supplied an adequate amount of water to your lawn and garden, you'll want to do all you can to keep it in the soil.Incorporating compost is still the best way to regulate soil moisture.
Also, cut your grass high to provide shade for the roots. Set the mower blades between 5 and 8 centimetres; and leave the grass cuttings on the lawn as a mulch. The mulch slows the evaporation of water from the soil and acts as a fertilizer for the grass.
An 8 to 15 centimetre layer of loose, organic mulch on the soil surface around plants and trees retains moisture and moderates soil temperature.
If your lawn fades in the summer, don't panic. Grass becomes naturally dormant during hot, dry periods. It will revive quickly after a good rainfall or when the weather becomes cooler.
Car Washing: Using a running hose to wash your car can waste about 400 litres of water. Using a bucket with a sponge plus a trigger nozzle on the hose will save you about 300 of those litres. And, never clean the driveway or sidewalk with the hose. Use a rake and broom and save about 200 litres of water every time you sweep.
Pool: If you own a pool, be sure to use a pool cover when it's not in use. This will cut down on evaporative losses and will keep it cleaner and warmer. Check equipment such as filtration systems and water inlets on a regular basis for signs of leaks.
Yes, you can retrofit your lawn!
The secret to keeping green while reducing water use is in alow maintenance landscape. This means keeping thirsty turf grass to a minimum – or replacing it instead with either native ground covers or flower beds, patios and walkways.
Plants and shrubs native to your region generally require little more water than nature provides (look at the forests and fields!). Plus, they're usually the last to suffer damage from insects or disease.
In the case of walkways and patios, consider an interlocking paving stone to minimize runoff and maximize water retention in the soil.
Retrofitting to a low maintenance landscape can be a little costly. But you don't have to change everything at once. Also, your investment should pay you back by increasing the value of your property. In the prairies, consider desert landscaping using drought-resistant plants (xeriscaping).
If you can't bear to be without a green lawn, consider a drought-resistant grass species which needs no water other than what mother nature provides. You can sow this grass seed directly over your lawn and, over the course of a season, it will replace the existing grass species.
There's no better resource than a local garden club or organic gardening association when it comes to advice on what to plant, when, and where.
A lot of what we do to our yards can have rippling effects elsewhere. Lawn fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides cause damage far beyond the boundaries of our fences and hedges.
As much as 50% of the chemicals that go on our lawns, gardens, and crops to ward off insects and plant pests or to increase growth, end up in groundwater or surface water.
Once in the water, fertilizers promote weed and algae growth. When these plants die, the process of decomposition uses up oxygen in the water. Without oxygen, fish, and other essential aquatic organisms die also.
Other chemicals end up in the food chain and can have harmful health effects.
By switching to a low maintenance landscape, you reduce the need for fertilizers, and prevent chemical build-up in the environment.
And, remember that using salt on your sidewalk and driveway in winter can pollute ground and surface water. Use sand instead.
This section contains an interesting cross section of water information, including how municipalities keep track of, and influence water use, tips for people with private wells on how to stretch their water supply in times of drought, plus little-known facts and myths about water.
Water conservation and the municipality
Nearly 75% of the population in Canada relies on municipal systems for a safe and secure supply of drinking water. And, while some regions do better than others, one quarter of urban centres in Canada do not treat their sewage.
Many communities are beginning to make the connection between the water that comes out of the tap and the water that goes down the drain. Water conservation is now being recognized as a necessary and beneficial step in keeping treatment costs within reason while ensuring that a reliable supply of fresh water is always available.
If all municipal consumers use less water, then municipal water and sewer services can be delivered more effectively. The more effective the treatment of sewage, the less likely will our beaches be closed in the summer each year due to water contamination.
One of the better ways to encourage water conservation is by changing water rate structures.
Constant and increasing block rates are best because the more you use, the more you pay. The good news is, the less you use, the more you save.
Strange as it may sound, it actually makes good economic sense to lobby for higher prices for another reason. Water conservation saves huge amounts of money by postponing, or even eliminating, the need for costly expansions to municipal water and sewer systems.
It's essential to municipalities to know how much water consumers use in a given period of time. This information is used to determine the amount billed to each customer and it ensures that each customer only pays for the amount of water they consume. The information is also essential to your community's long-range infrastructure planning to ensure they will be able to meet customer demand in the future. Without accurate information on customer use, it is difficult to forecast future water use trends and customer needs.
Do meters influence water consumption in residential households? Yes! Studies have shown that households which are metered use less water than unmetered households, even without price increases. Users who are aware of their use repair leaking taps and toilets, and find ways to use water wisely in order to save money.
In Alberta, for example, Edmonton meters all residential water users, while Calgary is only partially metered. Metered users in both cities use about the same. However, the unmetered households in Calgary used about 50% more in a survey conducted in the mid-1980's.
If you do not have a meter, try using the water log to estimate your use.
Dollars and sense
An increasing number of municipalities are factoring a sewer surcharge into their water billings. A sewer surcharge reflects the fact that it often costs just as much or sometimes more to collect and treat sewage as it does to purify and pump drinking water to the consumer. For example, if the water component of your billing period is $50.00 and the sewer surcharge is 100% of use, then your total water bill -- water use + sewer surcharge -- is $100.00 ($50.00 + $50.00).
In fact, you save twice when you conserve water. In the example above, a $20.00 saving in water use translates into a total saving of $40.00 on your bill! This means that an investment in a water saving toilet could pay back in less than one year.
Peaks and valleys
Summer can present special problems for water utilities. In parts of Canada, summer use can be twice as high as winter averages -- and sometimes higher during prolonged heat waves. The highest peak demand period is between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. when everyone is home cooking, cleaning, and watering the lawn.
Even if the utility has ample supply, it may not be able to pump the water fast enough during peak demand periods.
Reducing -- or simply postponing -- water use until after the peak can help a lot. It gives the reservoirs a chance to recharge and allows the municipality to maintain a safety margin which guarantees water flows and adequate pressures in case of a fire emergency.
Any measures that reduce the amount of water used will also minimize the amount of waste water released into sewers and -- ultimately -- into the water bodies we may rely on for our drinking water.
If you rely on a well, there's always the danger that water levels may drop. A season with low precipitation, or an influx of new neighbours, can leave you high and dry.
One safeguard is to use a cistern, which stores rain-water that runs off your roof. Cisterns can be as small as a barrel that catches water from a downspout or as large as an underground chamber or room in the basement that holds 20 000 litres or more.
Rain-water is usually very soft and free from dissolved minerals. It is ideal for washing dishes and clothes as well as for bathing and showering. However, cistern water should not be used for drinking. It may contain algae, suspended sediment from the roof, and other particulates.
Depending on how you plan to use the cistern, you may have to modify your plumbing system. The simplest approach is to pipe all cistern water directly to the hot water tank. The cold water tap would continue to draw water from the well or municipal system.
If you live in an area where water shortages are common, the re-use of greywater may be an option to consider.
Greywater is the term used to describe the water which drains from household basins, sinks and bathtubs -- as opposed to blackwater flushed down our toilets. Greywater can be used to water the garden, or can be piped to the toilet.
There are restrictions on greywater use in many municipalities. It's advisable to check with the local health department before proceeding with a greywater system.
If you experience extremely low water levels in your well during the summer months, you might consider converting to a micro-flush toilet which nearly eliminates water use altogether. These include the various composting units on the market and flush/composting combinations.
Look for a unit that incorporates a fan and ventilation system to prevent odours from back drafting into the living space.
Some composting systems use a conventional looking flush toilet which empties into a composting unit in the basement. These toilets have no tank and need only 1/3 litre (8 oz) of water per flush.That's more than a 95% reduction in water use over a conventional toilet. These systems are great for cottage and seasonal use, but are not recommended for year-round residential use.
Water myths and facts
Myth: There is an unlimited supply of fresh water.
Fact: More than two-thirds of the earth's surface is covered by water -- the volume representing almost 1 500 million cubic kilometres. About 94% of this water is found in the oceans, almost 6% is located underground and in glaciers, whereas rivers, lakes, soil moisture and atmospheric vapour, which constitute the major source of drinking water, account for a mere 0.0221% of the total volume!
Myth: Water conservation means water bans and doing without.
Fact: Water conservation doesn't mean cramping our lifestyles by doing without; it simply means reducing the amount of water we waste.
Myth: All municipalities have sewage treatment.
Fact: In 1996, 16% of Canada's urban population did not have any form of sewage treatment.
Myth: Very few toilets leak and those that do don't waste much water.
Fact: As many as 25% of all toilets leak. A toilet that runs on after flushing can leak at the rate of 20 to 40 litres per hour -- that's 200 000 to 400 000 litres per year!
Myth: Automatic dishwashers waste water compared to washing by hand.
Fact: If you hand wash dishes twice a day, you use about 70 litres of water. If you fill the dishwasher to capacity once per day, you use only about 30 litres of water.
Myth: There's plenty of water in the summer, so conservation isn't as important.
Fact: The opposite is true. While water supplies tend to remain fairly constant from season to season, therate at which people use water -- primarily for watering lawns and landscaping -- rises sharply in the summer. In fact, water demand nearly doubles in the summer, creating a peak demand problem and higher costs for the local water utility. Therefore, water conservation during the summer is crucial to avoid water rationing and keep costs down.
Myth: You use less water when you shower than when you have a bath.
Fact: This is not always the case. It depends on the length of your shower and the type of showerhead you have, as well as the amount of water in the bathtub. A six minute shower under a standard showerhead uses the same amount of water as a half-filled bathtub.
Myth: The best way to get rid of hazardous household chemicals is to pour them down the drain and let the sewage treatment plant deal with them.
Fact: You should never pour any toxic substance, such as old paint, paint thinners, or house and garden pesticides down the drain. The sewage treatment plant is designed to treat normal organic waste, not toxic substances. Therefore, these toxic wastes may impair the plant's ability to treat organic wastes.
How much water your household can save will depend on the number of water using appliances and fixtures in your home and, most importantly, how you use them.
According to Statistics Canada figures (2001), the typical Canadian household comprises 2.6 people. Assuming a per capita consumption rate of 329 litres per day, the typical Canadian household would use about 6000 litres per week, just for indoor use. Add another 2000 litres per week averaged over the year for lawn and garden watering and car washing. The total is about 414 000 litres per year!
In the bathrooms, converting to 6 litre per flush toilets and 9.5 litre per minute showerheads (and modifying a few water using habits) could achieve an impressive 2000 litres per week savings.
Using the washing machine and the dishwasher more efficiently could cut water use by 100 litres per week.
In the outdoors, following the steps outlined in this guide could result in savings of about 1000 litres per week.
Altogether, that's a savings of about 3100 litres per week, or about 160 000 litres (160 cubic metres) per year – just over a 35% reduction!
Another point to remember is that you can add the savings from reduced water heating costs to these savings. And, as prices rise, so will the savings.
You get high water marks – by saving water, energy and money, and protecting the environment – if you follow the steps outlined in this guide. By starting right away, you're on the road to making water conservation in the home a comfortable, familiar and reassuring habit.
The bottom line? Water conservation is bothpainless, in terms of its impacts on our lifestyles and pocketbooks, and priceless, in terms of its environmental benefits for ourselves and future generations.
You would probably be amazed at the amount of water you actually use. If you're interested in finding out, try keeping track of your water use over the course of a week. It could help you to pinpoint areas where water savings could be easily achieved. Water use away from home can account for 20% of your weekly use so keep track of those uses as well: conduct a Water Audit.
A Primer on Fresh Water: Questions and Answers, Environment Canada, 2000.
About Wastewater Treatment, by Scriptographic Communications Ltd., 1988.
Canadian Green Consumer Guide, by Pollution Probe Foundation, McClelland and Stewart Inc., 1989.
Conserving Water: A Practical Guide for Homes, Farms and Communities , Province of Alberta, 1988.
Eau Reservoir: Saying Good-bye to Well-Water Worries(article on cisterns), by David Swanson, in Harrowsmith Magazine, # 81, Sept./Oct., 1988.
Goodbye to the Flush Toilet, edited by Carol Stoner. Rodale Press Inc., 1977.
Ground Water and the Rural Homeowner, by R.M. Waller, U.S. Geological Survey, 1989.
Home Water Supply: How to Find, Filter, Store and Conserve It, by Stu Campbell, Garden Way Publishing, 1983.
How to Get Your Lawn and Garden Off Drugs, by Carole Rubin, Friends of the Earth, 1989. Second edition (2003) Harbour Publishing, Madeira Park, B.C.
Low Maintenance Garden, by Graham Rose, Penguin Books, 1987.
Septic Tank Practices: A Guide to the Conservation and Re-Use of Household Wastewater , by Peter Warshall, Anchor Press, 1979.
Sunset Book on Basic Home Repairs, Lane Publishing, 1987.
Trickle-Down Effect. A Slow and Efficient Way to Water, by Robert Kourik, in Harrowsmith Magazine, #80, July/August, 1988.
Two Minutes a Day for a Greener Planet, by Marjorie Lamb, Harper Collins, 1990.
Water Conservation – Every Drop Counts, Environment Canada, 1992.
The print version of this publication contains the following
Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data
Main entry under title:
Water : no time to waste : a consumer's guide to water conservation
Issued also in French under title: L'eau : pas de temps à perdre
ISBN 0-662-23049-3 Cat. no. En37-93/1995E
1. Water conservation – Canada – Handbooks, manuals, etc.
2. Water use – Canada – Handboods, manuals, etc.
3. Water supply – Canada.
4. Water – Canada.
I. Canada. Environment Canada.
II. Title: A Consumer's guide to water conservation.
TD226.W3714 1990 553.7'0971 C90-098676-X
Writer: REIC Ltd.
Design/Cover: REIC Ltd.
Published by authority of the Minister of the Environment
©Minister of Public Works and Government Services 1995
- Date Modified: