Turning off the taps

Turning off the water at the meter

Turning off the water at the meter

On Saturday we turned off our water at the meter and were only allowed to use 10 litres of water per person. As part of the Transition Streets Challenge, we’re doing one of the water challenges:

For one day – Fill one bucket of water for each person in your household. Then turn off your water at the meter. Can you get through the day with this amount of water to use for drinking, cooking and washing? You could use the dirty water for toilet flushing. How did it go? Were you OK with having a wash instead of a shower?

Before turning the water off, we filled a couple of buckets and a 15 litre water bottle, and dad (who has a house in our backyard) filled a bucket as well. Between the five of us we had 50 litres for the day – the average Newcastle household (three people) uses around 10 times this amount.

We managed to get through the day successfully, but with no water to spare. Interestingly the hardest part was the toilet even though we had decided not to flush every time (but definitely after a No 2!) The first time I tried to flush using a bucket, it used nearly half the bucket. We didn’t have that much water to waste! Instead we put waste water (e.g., after washing dishes) in the toilet cistern and used the more efficient toilet flush. This worked much better.

Filling the cistern with waste water

Filling the cistern with waste water

It really made us think about how we take water for granted – we all turned on a tap without thinking. To make it through the day we did things like:

  • Left water in the basin for washing our hands
  • Instead of a shower we just had a wash, used the same water to wash a few clothes, and then added it to the cistern for flushing the toilet
  • When we cooked dinner we had a bowl of water for washing the vegies (and then the water was used for the toilet)
  • Each used a small cup of water to clean our teeth
  • Didn’t water the vegie garden.

Washing clothes by handIt would be a real challenge to do it for a week or longer. Even doing it for just the day meant our expectations had to change. We would have struggled to make it through a week – especially in terms of doing a full load of washing clothes, keeping clean, flushing the toilet and watering the garden (although we do have a 4500 litre rain water tank we use on the garden). At the same time, it did show how much water we waste and how easy it would be to save water if we really had to.

While we won’t be limiting ourselves to 10 litres/person/day from now on, we are also doing a week-long challenge to see how little water we can use:

For one week – Knowing your average daily household water use, see how little water you can use over one week. Take a meter reading at the beginning of the week, and see if all household members can make an extra special effort to reduce water consumption for the week.

We are already fairly water conscious but I’m sure we could reduce our water use significantly.

The thing that had the biggest impact on me was thinking about the almost 900 million people in the world who do not have access to clean water (Oxfam) and the many rural people (especially women and girls) who have to walk long distances to obtain water. In Africa some women have to walk a round trip of over 15 kms to collect and carry 20 litres of water (Voss Foundation). In the Millennium Development Goals “access to drinking water” means:

That the source is less than 1 kilometre away from its place of use and that it is possible to reliably obtain at least 20 litres per member of a household per day. (World Health Organisation)

Our experience of making a choice to live with a bucket of water for a day can’t compare with people whose lives are dependent on long and potentially dangerous trips to access water. Like many other environmental issues, access to water is embed in the need for social change and a commitment to social justice.

We are back to using water from a tap, but hopefully with a greater appreciation for this precious resource and a greater commitment to ensuring sustainable access to water for all.

If you liked this post you might want to follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog),  and you might like to look at:

  1. What is the Transition Streets Challenge?
  2. What is asset-based community-driven development (ABCD)?
  3. Consumption and the Transition movement
  4. 10 ways to reduce your consumption
  5. Why I support Oxfam
  6. More on ABCD in Ethiopia

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Environmental sustainability and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Turning off the taps

  1. mmeg16@gmail.com says:

    I love getting our water bill and seeing how little we use. Our last bill says that for a household of 4 we used 45l per person per day and the typical number for our suburb is 98l per person per day. Helps that we don’t water the garden! So we wouldn’t be the 10l per day but I am pleased that just by normal living we are so much below the average. To have to carry your water in every day would be a lot of work and we know it is the women’s work. Well done for meeting the challenge and asking us to think about what we do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We done! We averaged 263 litres a day over the past year. That included our household of four and GP’s household of 1. So nearly 53 litres per person but it did include our garden and the kids vegies on the verge. We would certainly struggle to do 10 or 20 litres a day for any length of time.


  2. ywwp says:

    Water conservation: This is a need of hour. regards


  3. Nat Cowdell says:

    Fantastic :-) I like that the challenge demonstrated how much water is needed to flush a toilet! Indoor plumbing makes it so easy to waste ridiculous amounts of water. Turning off the taps is a brilliant way to be 100% conscious about water usage. I think, unfortunately, we all have the ability to forget lessons learnt and go back to taking things for granted when we don’t have ongoing reminders. I wonder how people would go turning off the taps on a regular basis, say once a week or even once a month?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Congratulations on meeting the challenge! I would like to try this (not sure my teenagers would be as enthusiastic). Not only do we take turning on the tap for granted, we also take turning on HOT water for granted. What a luxury!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sabina says:

    This is very interesting! While I think of myself as being water-conscious (especially compared to my college peers, who really love their half hour showers), I doubt I would be comfortable on this little per day.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sarah says:

    This is a marvellous idea! I’m going to ask our little gardening playgroup to do the same challenge. We currently ask our 3-5 year old to count to twenty while they water each plant. They love being able to show the rest of the group how good their counting is. We are on tank water and operate out of a local primary school. We opted for a tank, as one year over summer we copped a massive $800.00 water bill using the schools tap water. That amount was our annual budget down the drain literary. Apart from the $ wasted we were all sad about the water wasted. It turned out the amount $ including the water wasted was the result of one leaky tap that had not been fixed and a few bubblers (kids fountains) were left on over the school holidays. The pre schoolers learnt the value of money and water that day! The point is I guess we all need to take on accountable decision making practices and pass on mindfulness behaviours to our peers and children.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wasting all that water and money would have hurt! It’s great to see you incorporating things with the kids in the gardening group. Have you seen the posts about the Kids Vegies on the Verge? I need to do an update. The kids aren’t doing much gardening (although the garden is still going great thanks to Cathy) but the relationships in the street have really blossomed.


      • Sarah says:

        Yes it did! I had followed verge and was so happy to see these successful interactions with the local kids and families. My husband and I organised and built a massive sandpit at a very central local community tennis court recently. The local playground was un impressive for children and local council notified us (local mums &dads ) that our playground was not on the agenda for another 2 yrs. So We had neighbours who were unknown to us join in and help create the new sand pit. It was so lovely. I remember one elderly gentleman came on over and brought his portable drop saw, suggesting his would do a better job. In that situation, you just say yeah ok! And go with it. I secretly hoped this sort of thing happened. We made new friends that day.

        Liked by 1 person

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