“Access to a secure, safe and sufficient source of fresh water is a fundamental requirement for the survival, well-being and socio-economic development of all humanity. Yet, we continue to act as if fresh water were a perpetually abundant resource. It is not.”
Kofi Annan, Is the World Running Out of Water? Awake! Magazine, June 22, 2001
Less than one quarter (1-in-4) of the world's population has a reliable source of drinking water, sanitary or otherwise. And as world population grows and climates change with global warming, fresh water resources are shrinking. Example: what was once the Sea of Aral in Russia has all but vanished.
Saudi Arabia has been trying to get a fresh-water iceberg to supply its needs since the 1970s. Israel has and is developing desalination methods to meet the fresh water challenge. Example: desalination has supplied drinking water to Eilat since the 1960s and supplies ALL its fresh water since 1997.
Of course, that means the price of water is going up.
Ten years ago I decided to wash down my yard with soapy washing machine water and got a real shock: ONE machine cycle used 70 liters of water – enough to keep one human being alive for 17 days. I was using one wash and two rinse cycles per load! From that moment I decided to save as much tap water (and money) as I reasonably could – and am still doing so.
Here are some simple as well as engineered ways to save water in and around your home.
- Wet your toothbrush, fill a cup, then turn the tap OFF. The cup can be refilled as needed to rinse mouth; rinse the cup and brush ONCE when finished.
- If you use an electric kettle to make a hot drink in winter, mix the leftover hot water with tap water in a plastic pitcher and use that to soap your face. Rinse with cold water to close the pores. This method saves both running water and the time it takes to reach the desired temperature.
- While setting the water temperature for a shower SAVE the runoff in a bucket or two! A friend saves enough water this way to mop her entire house and clean out all the sinks.
- Showering: wet yourself, then fill a plastic jug with water and turn the water OFF while soaping. Use the jug to re-wet the sponge or hair. Better yet, get a shower-head (telephone' style) with a 'pause' setting; no need for a jug or to adjust the water temperature each time!
- Some families plug their bathtubs and use shower/bath water to flush the toilet; others just keep a plastic basin in the sink and empty the surplus water from that into the toilet tank.
- As in the shower, save the runoff water when setting the temperature.
- Hand-washing dishes:
- keep a basin in the sink to soak dirty dishes for easy cleaning.
- Stack the soaped dishes on the counter and soap the inside of the basin last.
- Return the soaped dishes upside-down to the clean basin and start rinsing. This creates a cascade effect as the next dish below has less soap suds to rinse off.
Gardens and potted plants adore air conditioner runoff water because it has no minerals; so find that hose and start an urban 'rain-barrel'. However this water CANNOT be used for anything else: a/c runoff contains all the bacteria, chemicals, dust and germs that the air does - in condensed form. It can cause real harm to humans, pets, car batteries and steam irons.
Re-using washing machine runoff requires at least one 50-60 liter plastic trash bin. The water can be directed into the bin instead of going down the drain pipe. Use rinse cycle water to mop floors or wash yards, or soapy water for heavy duty cleaning. Use the water the same day, otherwise add a dash of chlorine bleach to prevent mosquito and bacteria growth.
What to do with all that saved water?
- Clean water from shower or kitchen can be used for washing, hand laundry, mopping, to fill the washing machine, water plants or fill pets' drinking bowls.
- Washing machine water is great for mopping and heavy duty cleaning chores; not recommended for gardening because of its chemical content.
There are gray water filtration systems for homes and apartment buildings which use the reclaimed water for landscape gardening.
Hopefully you'll develop your own ways to conserve this precious substance... and save money at the same time. Remember, as W. H. Auden wrote in First Things First:
“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”