Ecojustice Blog – Healthy communities Posted on May 29, 2013 (updated: February 17, 2015)

How a personal water crisis made me reconsider conservation

Dr. Anastasia Lintner

The water crisis before a dinner party

On Saturday night, my family and I had to host our dinner guests with no running water.

No, it wasn’t some water-use-awareness-raising-event. We returned home after completing some last-minute errands and discovered a split water pipe in our second-floor bathroom. The cascading waterfall ran through our dining room and into the basement. In two and a half hours, our guests were due to arrive.

We vacuumed the water in the basement and towel-mopped the bathroom and dining room. We borrowed an 18-litre jug of emergency water from our neighbours, adjusted our menu so it required less water and went ahead as planned!

Luckily, we didn’t face many challenges. I only washed a few dishes while preparing dinner. My spouse filled a bucket with water from one of our rain barrels and placed it by the toilet — in case someone needed to flush. Otherwise, we handled the crisis and returned to normal the following morning when we had running water again. That’s when I turned on the dishwasher and threw all those dirty towels in the washing machine.

Isn’t it strange what we get used to, in terms of our routines and our water use? When my family goes canoeing and camping in the summer, and we have to either carry all the drinking water we intend to use or purify it as needed, we each use less than five litres per day.

According to last month’s utilities bill, when we aren’t monitoring our water usage the way we do on our summer trips, we each use about 250 litres per day.

The Aussie Example
In Australia, rainwater cisterns are everyday items due to the desperate consequences of extended droughts. Citizens of Melbourne are limiting their water use to 144 litres per person per day because of an ongoing crisis. Water crises and droughts may be rare in Canada. But if reducing our water usage helps to protect our water, maybe we shouldn’t wait for a crisis.

 Is Metro Vancouver Leading in Water Conservation?
This week, 24 Hours published a story with the headline, “Metro Vancouver best in Canada for water conservation.” But the article didn’t report the city’s water use. I checked Vancouver’s water conservation website and it indicates that water use in the region is 340 litres per person, per day. According to Environment Canada statistics from 2009, every Canadian uses an average of 272 litres per day.

Failed Promises From The Government of Ontario
Ontario committed, in an agreement with Quebec and the eight Great Lakes states, to develop and implement a water conservation strategy. But Ontario’s government has yet to get serious about water conservation. In 2009, they shared a water conservation proposal to the public.

Now it’s 2013 and the government has failed to develop any meaningful water conservation targets. I believe that a good target for residential water use by every Canadian is 150 litres per day. I also believe achieving that target wouldn’t require major changes to our daily routines. If Canadians could meet a target like that, we’d really have something to brag about.

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