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Published Columns: April 2007
Curbing Your Consumption:
Being Water Wise

By John Ford

Part of the general conservation message has always been to conserve water. While you don't often think about water as an energy issue, the pumping and purification of it is energy intensive. Cutting down on your water use lowers your overall energy footprint.

The energy contained in waste water does not have to be sent down the drain. Technology exists to transfer the heat back to incoming water, which is becoming popular as it becomes more cost effective.

We often take water for granted. When cycling in Africa, I've had to spend many hours a day searching for a water source. One village had their wells surrounded by barbed wire to protect it, and we had to summon the keeper of the key so that we could buy some. Not a common sight here where water is so cheap and abundant.

Near the Sahara Desert in Mali, water used for cooking is then used to wash the dishes, then dumped on the garden, where the animals all gather to get a quick drink before it disappears into the soil. Not a drop goes to waste.

Coupons come in the mail for discounts on low-flow showerheads, and faucet aerators. Presumably you have already taken advantage of those offers to reduce your flow. Front-loading clothes washers are now very common, and use a fraction of the water and energy compared to top-loaders.

There are also incentives to install rain barrels to collect water for the garden from the roof runoff. You can't collect enough water to supplement a thirsty lawn, so plant clover, or more drought resistant ground cover.

As water becomes a more valued resource, we will see some of the measures already used in other places, such as Florida's rainwater recovery. There are two water collection and distribution systems so that non-potable water can be used for purposes such as washing and watering. I once rented a farmhouse in Ottawa with a cistern in the basement. One day we may see a version of those return.

Building codes now require low-flow toilets. Why not eliminate any flow, by installing a composting toilet. The technology for these has come a long way, to make them a convenient option even where septic systems are not required.

John Ford is a technology consultant, owner of a small energy conservation business, and the Energy Advocate for the Green Party of Ontario.