Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Frugal Use of Water Can Reduce The Drain On Our Environment

As water becomes the future gold, creative ways in which to conserve and utilize water effectively need to be employed. While, In Canada, there is an abundant supply of fresh water, that resource is not limitless, and our neighbours to the south will soon be in need of that liquid commodity. As climate change impacts the world, we already are seeing periods of flood followed by periods of severe drought, like that witnessed across central North America in the summer of 2011.
The responsibility for conservation and efficient use of water is more than the responsibility of government and big business: it is the duty of each of us, as consumers.
While my wife and I have adopted a minimalist strategy toward the use of the earth’s resources, we, too, are not excused from using this precious water frugally. We have, however, minimized our consumption to less than 150-225 litres of water per week (7,800 litres per year). That’s almost 2,000 cubic feet of water, or 1,000 cubic feet per person. Compared to the North American average of over 5 times that amount per individual (not including industry), we should be proud of our ecological stewardship. However, we found that, while we have had difficulty in using less, we have been able to recycle and reuse more. In the summer, our grey water, from our shower, kitchen sink and bathroom sink is routed into a 230-litre holding tank, and then used, each week, to water our gardens. In the early spring and late fall, we use some of that water in a sprayer system to “flush” our toilet, using less than two cups per flush.
A channel dug around the perimeter of our yurt redirects rainfall into a small dugout pond, where it, too, can be used for the gardens.
With water consumption for our vegetable cooking, we, again, have discovered ways to minimize, by using minimal water for boiling potatoes, then using that water to steam or cook our vegetables. That enriched water, in turn, is used to make soups and stews, and excess potato water is used to make bread. For the few times that we boil eggs, the water is mixed with other water (sometimes rainwater), for washing dishes.
One of the concerns that people have expressed is that we may be transferring bacteria and water-borne disease by reusing some of our water in dish cleaning, and, again, on the gardens. However, the eggs are hard shelled, and harbour no bacteria that is resistant to the dish soap. On the other hand, because our grey water sits in the holding tank for up to seven days, there is a risk of bacteria build-up. Consequently, we make sure that we water our plants only at the base or roots, so that there is a minimal risk of contamination.
Other factors also come into play. The odour from stale water is not pleasant, but, within an hour after watering any residual odour has dissipated. If you add glycol (RV antifreeze) to the tanks in the winter, this water should not be used on the plants, as glycol is extremely hazardous to human health. On the other hand, if you have used less than 5% antifreeze per tank, that liquid can safely be applied to the roots of larger trees.
One final tip: when installing our grey water holding tank, we constructed it so that the tank was below the level of the shower and sink drains, but above grade, so that we could siphon, easily, the water from the tank, relying on the benefit of gravity to move the water.
Perhaps, in the near future, we will be able to purify the water, recycle it for human use (washing, etc.) and then apply it to the garden. That will cut our consumption in half. However, using only the minimal amount required does offer a measure of environmental responsibility that should make any of us employing these measures confident that we are doing our part to protect the environment.