Friday, 2 March 2018

A five-pronged strategy to participate in water conservation efforts

We are all aware of what Cape Town is going through presently:

If we think that Cape Town in South Africa is too far from us for this to worry us too much, I invite you to read the following two articles:

There can be no argument on the very very highly urgent need to take every step we can to conserve water.

However, the question arises: How do you and I, the common folk living our day to day lives, participate in this water conservation process?

I present five strategies in this post that I believe we can implement fairly easily in our personal lives. These are of course above and beyond the sustained efforts that are needed at the community and government levels such as rain water harvesting, rejuvenation of lakes and rivers and putting firm caps on the amount of water that can be used by soft drink and liquor industries. If you have some ideas that you would like to share, please feel free to leave a comment. I will go through comments periodically and if I feel your suggestion can make a significant impact, I will incorporate it in the post (with credit duly given to you).

Strategy 1:

I invite you to read the following articles:

To quote from the article: “The water footprint of a soft drink, let’s say a cola, taking into account the direct and indirect water use to produce the drink, ranges between 150 and 300 litres of freshwater per 0.5 litre bottle.[1] A typical bathtub contains 90 litres of water. We therefore consume about two or three bathtubs full of water when drinking a bottle of cola.”

To quote from the article: "... it takes 170 to 310 liters of water, or 45 to 82 gallons, to produce a half liter of soda, 300 liters to make a liter of beer, and 140 liters to produce the ingredients that go into one cup of coffee, according to the Water Footprint Network, a scientific group that works with many big food and drink companies on water issues."

[Note 1: The word “soda” above likely means soft drinks such as coke, pepsi, etc.]

[Note 2: The water consumption for a cup of coffee stated above corresponds to using about 7 grams of coffee powder while a 1 Re sachet of Bru Instant apparently contains 1.5 grams of coffee powder. Also, there are different viewpoints on coffee, one of them being: - which suggests that its also important to consider whether a significant portion of the water requirement is met through rainfall - which also brings into play *where* we are getting our coffee from. So one has to analyse this in detail.]

Based on Note 2 above, this post is presently restricted to soft drinks such as pepsi, coke, etc. and beer (and possibly some other alcoholic beverages since to the best of my knowledge the water footprint of some other liquors is also quite high – I invite you to explore further).

Now its true that a fair amount of this water gets used in the agricultural activities associated with making these beverages. So one may say that, well, a lot of farmers get economically benefited. Then one can also point out the job creation economics of these industries. Valid points.

But I pose the following question in rebuttal: Farmers would also get benefited if we chose to consume fruit juices instead! And we would be consuming beverages that are far healthier for us, which in turn would lead to lesser obesity, lower instances of diabetes, lesser hangovers, lesser instances of livers getting damaged, etc. and more people with a good nutrition intake in terms of the vitamins fruits possess.

If you talk about job creation, we can have more juice shops that will employ more people. We can well imagine going and spending a few hours in a "Fruits, Juices and Smoothies Bar". We can choose to spend as much on a pint of this stuff (which is better!) as we do on a pint of beer or a peg of whiskey. These "Fruits, Juices and Smoothies Bars" can also have managers and servers.

All this is quite possible :)!

Plus more orchards to grow fruits will lead to more tree cover, and if what we learn in high school geography was correct, this will increase the probability of higher rainfalls.

What's happening right now is that there are many many people who aren't even getting drinking water while many of us are splurging away hundreds of liters of water to consume just a few glasses of beverages that essentially give us nothing of any lasting value.

So, to sum it up, here's my first suggestion to counter water scarcity: Let's cut back on our sodas, coca colas, beers, whiskeys, etc. and drink healthier stuff. Good for us, good for our water resources, good for the environment, good for many other people.

In addition to this conscientious effort from our side as responsible citizens, I would love to see a firm cap put by the state and central governments on the amount of water that can be used by soft drink and liquor industries.

Strategy 2:

As per this article: - much lesser water is consumed if one uses an Indian style toilet (which apparently may have come to us from Turkey).

Now the contrast indicated in the article – 1 or 2 mugs of water vs a whole flush full of water – is probably unrealistic. I don’t think 1 or 2 mugs of water is enough even in an Indian style toilet. But at the same time I feel that quantity of water we use in most flushes today, whether for Indian or western style toilets, is too high.

This article: - suggests an ingenious way to reduce the water consumption while flushing. To quote: “To control the amount of water being flushed out at one go, insert a bottle of mineral water into the tank, or a brick wrapped in plastic. This occupies the same volume of the actual water. Thus when refilling, less water will fill up. But there will still be enough to keep the pot clean.”

So just this one change can lead to daily water savings in each house. And it all adds up when we look at it from the village / city / state / country perspective.

The advantages of using an Indian style toilet go beyond water consumption issues: Due to the squatting position it is also more effective in passing stool which in turn can help (as per this article: "prevent “fecal stagnation,” a prime factor in colon cancer, appendicitis, and inflammatory bowel disease".

However, there are some situations in which the western style toilet would be preferable as per this article:

My input: Unless you have an age/medical condition preventing you to do so, use an Indian toilet. If you haven't used it earlier, or haven't used one for a while, it might be a bit uncomfortable for a while but it should be alright in a few weeks as the thigh muscles and knees get used to it. Having a "bracket fixed on a wall" in front of you to hold would likely help in the first few weeks as you get used to the position.

Note that if you have an Indian toilet you can use a device such as this: - if and when squatting becomes difficult due to age or some medical condition. (There might be more options in the market too: do explore.)

Finally, please, please, stop using toilet paper and start washing your backsides after passing stool. There is nothing unhygienic about it. One does wash one's hands with soap afterwards! This actually saves water! You need a mug or two of water at most if you wash while scores and scores of trees need to be cut to make toilet paper. Those trees consume water when they grow. And when they are cut, the green cover on our planet reduces, which in turn affects rainfall. The waste generated by toilet paper is of course a serious matter in itself!

Strategy 3:

I repeat an article posted above that discusses ways in which we can reduce water consumption in our day to day household activities:

Of the several suggestions made I can confirm the following from my own personal experience:

Using a bucket of water to bathe instead of a shower works out just fine. I happen to have long hair and need at most two buckets when I shampoo (twice a week). On other days, 1 to 1.5 buckets : max! As per the article, a bucket holds 15-20 litres of water. So I do not use more than 30 litres ordinarily and not more than 40 litres when I shampoo. Whereas, again as per the article, "the new swanky showers spew out at least 40 to 60 litres a minute!".

The other suggestions in the article are interesting too. I'm going to try and implement them as far as possible. I invite you to consider them as well.

[To add a simple but effective one from my side: Do not leave the tap running when applying soap to utensils, hands, etc. Turn on the tap only-when-its-time-to-rinse.]

Strategy 4:

It takes about a bucket of water to mop (specially in the Indian style called "pocha") an entire apartment's floor area.

With this in your mind, ask yourself the following question:

How much water do you use to wash your car(s) and how often?

To save water consumed in cleaning your car(s):

1. Use a dry cloth first to thoroughly wipe your car.

2. Follow this up with a thorough wipe using a wet cloth. As the wet cloth picks up dirt, dip it in a shallow pail of water and squeeze out the dirt. And continue to wipe :)!

This is exactly how one does "pocha" at home! One doesn't use a hose pipe or mugs and mugs of water to wet-wash the floor :)! Then why should that be needed to clean one's car(s) :)?

Strategy 5:

First what I don't have a problem with, and then what I recommend transforming:

If you have a small lawn in your house where you actually spend quality time, I don't see a problem with it. You need some water to maintain the lawn but this is water spent towards maintaining a space that you are using to add value to your life. In fact better you come out and spend some time around plants instead of being glued to your TVs and facebook & instagram profiles.

Likewise, there are some community lawns where people come to relax in the evenings, children frolic around, some folks get a bit of exercise by walking around for a while, while others may choose to just spend some time silently, read a book or just watch the sun set. I don't see a problem with such spaces and the water used to maintain them is well spent in my opinion. In fact it would be great in my opinion if people spent a little more time in such spaces, get to know other people in their communities, connect with them and develop friendships and a sense of camaraderie.

There are sports grounds where people play soccer, hockey, frisbee, cricket, kho-kho, etc. Often there are running tracks around these grounds for people interested in athletics. I don't see a problem with such spaces and the water used to maintain them. (Although I do feel that we should have multi-purpose grounds as far as possible where different sports can be played. That would be more viable than having separate grounds for each sport.) Again, I wish more people stepped out and played a bit. Just this one shift and I think overall levels of fitness and happiness in society would shoot up. Sport and physical exercise are extremely important and this is water well spent.

BUT then there are also what I call "showpiece lawns". Vast expanses of grass that consume lots and lots and lots of water and are hardly ever used either for individual relaxation or for spending quality family & community time or for sport and exercise. I emphasize again: these are "showpiece" lawns. THIS, I do have a problem with and recommend the following transformation:

Convert them into groves. That way one still has spaces of natural beauty (in fact with possibly a larger variety of flora!), there can be pathways and benches in these groves that still allow people to go and spend quality time with nature, but the water consumption will go down significantly. Also, with increasing tree cover, the probability of rainfall increases.

I wish you a happy journey ahead as you start participating in the water conservation process. I'm enjoying learning more about this topic and implementing whatever measures I can in my personal life. May you also enjoy the process as much :)!

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