The Inside Agenda Blog

Making Better Use of Water: Practice & Theory

by Daniel Kitts Thursday March 22, 2012

This being Water Week on TVO, and this being a country that is considered to be very wasteful when it comes to water (only the United States uses more water per person), Thursday's discussion on The Agenda will look at how we can improve water efficiency and conservation. The conversation will focus in part on whether we should make people pay more for the water they use in their homes. Raising the cost of water, the thinking goes, would serve as a financial incentive for people to use less water more wisely.

Since we're talking about how to save water, I thought I'd ask one of the guests on Thursday's program, Bill Gauley, to give me a couple of basic misconceptions many people have about how to best make use of water at home. He also threw in a few "fun facts" worth knowing about water itself.

Myths about water conservation and efficiency

1. You can save water by washing by hand.

Many of the latest generations of dishwashers are quite efficient in their water use. Of course it's important to try to use your dishwasher only when it is full of dishes so that you're making the most of the water used.

2. Low flush volume toilets don’t flush as well as the older 13 litre toilets.

Newer low volume toilets flush three or four times as much waste as the older toilets with about one-third of the water.

3. Sensor-operated faucets save water. 

There are no independent studies that show water savings from sensor-operated faucets. But there are studies that show they use more water.

4. Rain barrels save a lot of water.

Gauley states that most "water efficiency professionals" agree that rain barrels save less than a couple of dollars worth of water each summer.

5. Automatic irrigation systems save water vs. manual irrigation.

Automatic systems often apply more than 4 times as much water per square metre of lawn than manually irrigated lawns.

"Fun" facts about water

1. A leak of only one drop per second equals 28 litres of water wasted per day.

2. If the earth was the size of a globe (about the size of a basketball), the average depth of the oceans would be thinner than the thickness of one piece of paper. All of the water on earth would fit into a golf ball, and all of the fresh water on earth would fit into a BB gun pellet.

3. The water molecules we have on Earth are the same molecules that have always been on Earth (i.e., a few dinosaurs have sipped at the same water molecules that are in your morning coffee).

4. Water is one of the only substances that expands when it freezes -- which is lucky for us, otherwise the oceans would be filled with ice instead of water.

5. Salt dissolves better in cold water than in hot water.

Papers and studies on water use

Here's where the "theory" referenced in the blog post's title comes in. In my conversations with water experts over the past week, I've come across a few reports on water usage that are worth reading if you really want to get a deeper understanding of how our water system works and how it could be improved.

H2Ontario: A Blueprint

This 2009 paper by the Ontario Water Conservation Alliance (OWCA) lays out what it calls "a blueprint for a comprehensive water conservation and efficiency strategy" for the province. The OWCA is supportive of the Ontario Water Opportunities and Water Conservation Act, passed by the legislature about one year after the report was released.

Bloom Centre Water Innovation Forum

The Bloom Centre for Sustainability recently released a report looking at opportunities for increased water efficiency in Ontario's food processing sector. Food processing is a big industry in the province that uses a lot of water -- so much so that water is a considerable cost to businesses in this sector. So the chances to use water more efficiently and save money are many.

Region of Durham Efficient Community -- Final Report

This 2008 study for Ontario's Durham Region, prepared by Bill Gauley, examines how much water can be saved by giving people more efficient water appliances and fixtures, such as low flush volume toilets.

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