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.
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.
It 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.
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