Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Water, water everywhere?

Sometimes I feel a bit like the Rosanna-Rosanna Danna character that Gilda Radner created on Saturday Night Live. It was like that for me when I first explored my choices for showers and toilets. I was under the mistaken impression that except in those rare cases in California when there wasn't enough rainfall or snow that the globe didn't have a sustained water shortage issue. Or if they did, it was weather-related and would merely mean that every several years we'd have regional droughts and be urged to curtail our water consumption. Oh, did you say water shortage?

But upon further investigation, I've learned that water is a scarce resource as is oil or wood. I'll credit Fine Homebuilding magazine for many of the details that I am about to impart here. But any casual web research will confirm that water is a commodity that must be nurtured and tended to carefully. And in spite of the EPAct of 1992, it seems to go mostly unnoticed that water, as with electrical consumption, was addressed with standards that now seem to be craftily skirted by manufacturers. Thankfully, this law is why many of the new toilets are meeting higher European standards.

But consumers seem to be generally unaware of how irresponsible it is to waste water. Think about it, you don't see car ads (not even for Hummers) that feature the general wanton consumption of gas. However, there are many slick ads for the ultimate shower experience, featuring a glassed-in unit with sometimes 3 or 4 pulsating shower heads. Some boast that they deliver 32 gallons of water per minute. As Alex Wilson, president of BuildingGreen (www.buildinggreen.com) describes it: "profligate waste, tantamount to outdoor air conditioners in the courtyards of Saudi oil sheiks."

So what's the situation with water shortages?

1- Global warming is causing watershed changes and places like the Western United States are greatly affected. Some of the fastest growing cities, Las Vegas and Albuquerque as example, are expected to chronically fall short of their water needs in the next decade, even in the best of weather circumstances. And remember that these locations are expanding their populations and thus expanding water consumption.

2- There is, and always will be, a finite amount of water on the planet. So as populations increase, the same water will be cycled over and over to meet demand. And that cycling requires energy to purify etc. This is a global issue and the situation is already dire in China and Africa.

3- Long, powerful, consumptive showers mean hot water needs to be generated. And that leads to significant energy consumption in order to facilitate the 80 gallons per minute set-up that I recently saw advertised as a "vertical spa environment."

4- Water is a shared commodity. I read an analysis that for every 3 people who put in one of these over the top systems, it negates the efforts of 100 people putting in efficient products. There are Hummer water users living among us!

What to do?

* Think twice before installing multiple shower heads. Install low flow units.

* Repair leaking toilets; replace old water-consuming toilets.

* Limit the number of those long luxurious showers. Luxuries are to be savored and indulged in only occasionally-- thus making them special!

* Don't run the water unnecessarily while brushing teeth, shaving, and washing dishes.

* Hold out for a full load of dishes, or use a shorter cycle. Same for the washing machine.

* You don't have to flush every time.

* Be responsible about water usage in your yard.

Other useful tips and information here:


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