Friday, 7 January 2011

No Impact Week: Feeling Encouraged about Water

So, day 6 of No Impact Week and we are looking at water.

You can calculate your annual cubic metres of water consumption here.  Mine came out at 373*, but some guesswork was involved.

I don't actually know how many kilos of fruit, veg and potatoes I eat every week, but a kilo of each sounded about right.  It doesn't tell you how your result compares with the average water consumption, but as mine is mostly due to my food intake, I don't think I can do much to reduce it and it certainly doesn't seem worth making too much effort to try to reduce the 90 cubic metres that are a result of cleansing myself and the dishes, but if I can run the water for less time that would help.  Running the water for 5 more minutes a day while washing up would add 22 cubic metres to my annual water consumption, while showering for 10 minutes instead of 15 would reduce it by 14 cubic metres.

Eating about 350 grams of lean meat a week has consumed 78 cubic metres of water whereas if I were to reduce it to 250g I would be responsible for the consumption of 22 cubic metres less throughout a whole year.

Drinking 4 cups of tea a day would use 51 cubic metres of water a year, but I wonder if it would be the same for rooibos (red bush) tea, which is what I drink along with water and fruit juice and occasional herbal teas, none of which are mentioned.  In fact you are asked if you drink tea and coffee and these are lumped together as stimulants. There is no allowance for drinks of other kinds.
I must drink at least 102 cubic metres a year as my 4 'cups' of rooibos tea a day come in large mugs.

I just looked to find out more about how rooibos tea is grown and it seems to grow best in sandy soil and needs little water. The only drawback is that is comes all the way from South Africa, but at least it isn't South America, and I usually buy a Fairtrade brand.

We do have a dual flush loo and a low flow shower head.  I was brought up to not to run the water while brushing my teeth and to use a mug for rinsing.

We don't have a dishwasher.  We don't water the garden a great deal either, but watering it for an average of 30 minutes a week would use a mere 12 cubic metres a year, which seems reasonable for a crop of tasty, fresh, organic fruits and vegetables.  As the water needed to grow these has already been taken into account, we are presumably using even less extra water to keep our crops alive in dry weather.

If I'm right about how much I spend on myself, including food, my consumerism is only using 8 cubic metres of water per annum, but I'm not sure if the manufacture and recycling of packaging has been taken into account.

It may only be a rough guide, so it's best to just try not to waste water as although we seem to have so much of it here in Britain, we have to remember that we need to have it cleaned and purified first and that uses a lot of resources.

Postscript, I was astounded to read Ann's Harvest Moon blog. She calculated her water usage at 1206 and says she was quite pleased with that because a study showed the average U.S. water footprint as 2,803 cubic meters. This same study (dataset1) shows the average UK per capita usage as 1245 cubic metres per annum, very close to the global average.

Am I exceptionally frugal with our use of water, or have I miscalculated?  I think I must have as this means I use less water than the average Yemeni and their usage at 619 cubic metres of water a year is the lowest in the world according to the study.  I obviously need to measure my water usage better.

*  I've added 51 cubic metres of water to my original total of 322 on the realisation that my 4 cups of red bush tea are actually large mugs.


  1. Have been checking our calculations - have commented on our blog, but if you convert cubic metres into litres - your consumption is over 1000 litres a day, so it can't be a miscalculation & the study you mention would mean that the average Yemeni uses 1800 litres a day, that seems a lot to me - don't you think?

  2. I'm glad you have a better idea than me of how that works out on a daily basis. My human calculator isn't around at the moment. I imagine the average Yemeni consumption is increased by a small number of wealthy Yemeni's with wasteful Western habits, but I am now even more puzzled as to how American usage can be so high. They must literally be leaving their taps (faucets) on for hours. I know, as a nation, America has a reputation for wastefulness and extravagance, but I find that hard to believe. It looks like you and I don't need to worry too much about our water consumption, nor sponge washes and composting loos.

  3. Wow... I'll have to go check out that calculator.

    I can't speak for the rest of the US, but water usage here in the Denver area is beyond absurd. Colorado is basically a desert climate, so you'd think that water conservation would be a top priority, and on the surface it is, but all of the efforts amount to less than putting a band-aid on an amputated limb if you ask my opinion.

    First of all, people live in enormous houses with enormous yards. My spacious 900 square foot home is considered tiny by US standards. Most of the huge yards are landscaped with water guzzling plants like Kentucky bluegrass, which must be watered at least 3-4 times per week from about April-October just to keep them alive.

    In older neighborhoods, the environmentally aware have started to replace grass with more appropriate landscaping that doesn't require as much water (called xeriscape), or with vegetable gardens. But... most newer neighborhoods are governed by home owner's associations and covenants, most of which actually prohibit xeriscape and vegetable gardens because of an absurd view that it lowers the property values!!!

    To make matters worse, our water laws are just crazy. It's actually illegal to store rainwater here, as people don't technically own the water that falls on their own property. Plus, our municipal water is considered "single use" which means that you can get fined for doing things like using grey water from bathing or washing to water the garden.

    To top it off, even if you manage to use very little water, it really does nothing to curb the overall water usage of the city, because the more water we save, the more tap permits they issue, and the more new housing developments they build! I have a friend who is an environmentalist, and he advocates wasting as much water as possible because he sees it as a tool to slow down the ridiculous pace of development.

    OK, sorry for the rant, but I just wanted to give you some perspective from the land of crazy.


All relevant comments to this post are welcome, so feel free to have your say.