Growing up in the US I never saw a house without a water meter, unless there was no water supply. This was the case where I lived in New Mexico where all the water I used, though free, had to be carried up the hill in 5 gallon containers. While carrying 85 pounds of water up a hill was good physical conditioning this was a particularly strong incentive to conserve. Some of the first permaculture principles I ever saw put into action were on that land. My roommate built swales to halt rainwater runoff and direct it the pinion pines.
The western US has a long and interesting relationship with water. Personal rainwater harvesting was illegal until recently in the state of Colorado, where hundred year old water rights and laws are still in effect. It still is illegal in the state of Washington. The idea being that by interrupting the flow of water from my roof to the watershed I would be “stealing” water from the rightful owner, whoever held the rights to that watershed. Nevermind that I would be using it very efficiently and the rightful owner, probably a farmer or mining operation might be wasting it extravagantly. This is an unfortunate situation because simply by using water where it falls from the sky the carbon footprint is lower than using water that has to be purified, and pumped through miles of leaky water pipes. This is especially true in the UK where about a third of the water in the system is lost through leaky mains. (Harris and Borer 2005 p.279)
When I first moved to the UK I was astounded to discover that most homes don’t even have water meters. While this could be seen as a convenience it removes incentive to conserve. To borrow a concept from business management, you can’t manage what you don’t measure! Installing a meter, which should be free from your water company, will provide a incentive to conserve and will allow you to pay only for what you use. Typically a household that installs a meter will see a 30% reduction in water use. (Harris and Borer 2005 p.279)
As the UK sees more water restrictions due to changing weather patterns brought on by climate change there will be increased impetus to conserve. Mains water supply uses significant amounts of electricity to purify and pump and using pure water to flush toilets is wasteful. The trick is to find ways to cut usage without investment in expensive equipment that counteracts the savings. In subsequent posts I’ll discuss simple methods for doing just that.
Harris, C. and Borer, P. 1998 - The Whole House Book; Ecological Building Design and Materials 2nd edition,
What have you done today to lower your impact?
We are washing away the foundations of our existence on every front. It is high time we move from crashing about on the planet like a bull in china shop and find a way to go forward with intent. We must find systems of living based on sustainability. The systems and tools exist, it is up to each of us to adopt them.
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