Friday, January 7, 2011

No Impact Week: Day 6 - Water

This week I'm experimenting with No Impact Week, exploring some of my past successes at decreasing my carbon footprint and generating even better ideas for the future. My goal is to challenge myself to redo the week later this year when it will have the greatest impact on my day-to-day life. Click here for a review of Day 1 - Consumption, Day 2 - Trash, Day 3 - Transportation, Day 4 - Food, and Day 5 - Energy.


Day 6 - Water

We're six days into No Impact Week, and you're probably expecting this post to be filled with tips about soaking dishes in the sink, taking shorter showers, and turning off the tap while brushing your teeth. Wrong!

On second thought, maybe it's best if I start by pointing out some of the things I'm doing that help conserve water:
  •  Forget, for the time being, the landlord-bashing I was doing in yesterday's post about energy, because he partially redeemed himself by installing a low-flow toilet. Goodbye, 13-litre flushes! Ready to get one for your home? If you live in Toronto, the City will give you money for chucking out... I mean properly disposing of... your water-guzzling model for an efficient one.
  • My landlord's second good deed was to install a high-efficiency shower head, which is actually a double whammy of savings in water and energy. The City sells indoor water efficiency retrofit kits for $10 that include a high-efficiency shower head, a kitchen tap aerator, two bathroom sink aerators, a package of leak detection tablets, teflon tape (to wrap around the shower arm to prevent leaks), and, of course, a set of instructions. A great deal!
  • As I mentioned yesterday, I'm only running the dishwasher and clothes washer when they are full, and I reuse the same glass for water and mug for tea all day. At the kitchen sink, I don't wait for the water to become hot to wash my hands or non-dishwasher safe items. Soap and detergent cut grease all on their own; high water temperature only serves to remove stuck-on food - a problem I don't have because I leave dishes to soak before I wash them!

I could go on and mention that I never go to a car wash, have no lawn to water, swore off bottled water years ago, and try to remember to turn the shower off while I'm soaping up and massaging shampoo into my hair. But that would be placing too much focus on household water use, which only accounts for 11% of Canada's overall consumption of H20 (why is there no subscript button in Blogger, and what's the HTML code for it?). That's right, people like you and me aren't the bad guys - at least not directly. Water intensive industries such as agriculture, nuclear and coal fired power plants, and manufacturing cooling systems are the big problem.

But don't use that as an excuse - if you'll pardon the pun - to wash your hands of this issue! While you may not be the type to devote a lot of time and energy to lobbying politicians to introduce stricter (or any) regulations on industry, there are still a lot of options available to you:
  • Local Food Plus (LFP), an organization I've told you about before, works to certify farmers and producers who use sustainable methods (including water efficient ones) so that we, the public, can make informed decisions at the grocery store. LFP has been running a really successful Buy to Vote campaign that I encourage you to support.

  • Avoid factory farms, because generally more industrialized = more wasteful, and big business tends to care about profit margins at the expense of the environment. Do I really need to cite examples? I didn't think so. Don't forget that the use of pesticides and fertilizers goes hand in hand with water consumption, even if you're only looking at the chemical plants that manufacture the toxins!
  • There are a lot of numbers out there about the resource intensity of livestock operations, but the stat I love to pass on is that producing 8 ounces of beef can require up to 25,000 litres of water (I had to memorize that for an exam in December). Keep in mind that cows no longer graze in pastures, instead we feed them soy grown in heavily irrigated fields. To make a difference, simply cut down on your meat consumption or find a butcher who sells products from sustainably-raised animals.
  • Support the development of clean and renewable power generation. This can include becoming a Bullfrog Power member to have electricity from wind and hydro facilities injected into the local grid, matched to the amount of power your home uses.
  • Buy less stuff. Refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle. The fewer products you consume, the less water is wasted.
But in the meantime, definitely install a low-flow toilet and high-efficiency shower head! I'll try to get an indoor water efficiency retrofit kit by the time I try No Impact Week again later this year. This weekend covers the Giving Back Day as well as the Eco-Sabbath, which I will review next week.

Photo credits: water droplet; sprinkler.


  1. Recently I saw a stat somewhere that showed that Canadians consume more water even then Americans. Hopefully that is changing with the government support for low flow toilets and other energy efficient devices as you mentioned.

  2. *sigh* Per capita comparisons always make us look bad compared to Americans. It's because our industry is pretty huge, but our population size is (relatively) small. Keep in mind that only 11% of our national water consumption is due to household use. I'm a fan of low-flow toilets and high-efficiency shower heads, but as I mentioned in the post, agriculture, manufacturing, and coal and nuclear power plants eat up the most water.

  3. Also - Alberta's Oil Sands - 3 barrels of fresh water for 1 barrel of oil plus another 8 barrels of recycled water for a total of about 11 barrels of water for one barrel of oil. All the water ends up in toxic tailings ponds, where they think it is leaking into the Athabasca River. Did you catch David Suzuki's Tipping Point on CBC last Thursday? It was excellent, it airs again on Saturday, and it can also be seen online on CBC's site. It almost made me cry, and I blogged about it to vent. Something has to change up there, it just HAS to.

    For me, I need to install those water aerator things everywhere. My car is embarrassingly dirty.

  4. I can't wait to stream Tipping Point online after hearing such good things about it. You may be interested to read Franke James' visual essay, "Fat Cat Canada's Giant Litter Box" ( about the tar sands.