Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 30, 2002
Don't flush your dollars away
Turn off tour taps and, in turn, help your Mother Earth
By SUSAN ELSTON
A few months ago, I was attending a meeting on the 38th floor of a downtown Toronto law office. At one point during the meeting, I excused myself to find the washroom, and was faced with a corridor of expensive mahogany doors. I eventually found one bearing a discreet brass plate that simply said, Ladies and entered.
The washroom was divided into two small, elegantly decorated chambers. The outer room contained a brocade chair and desk. The inner sanctum housed a single toilet, marble counter and a sink with gold fixtures. It was beautiful.
It was also so far removed from the basic biological function that it serviced, that I later described it in detail to my husband. When I wondered about the system that would remove human waste from the 38th floor of a mahoganied office, filter the water and return it to Lake Ontario, Brian mused, "Did you ever consider the engineering involved in getting that water to the 38th floor in the first place?"
Good question. For most Canadians, our water system - collection, purification, distribution, filtering and recycling - is so transparent, we don't think about where our water comes from or where it goes when we're done with it.
It's cheap, abundant and as long as there's water when we turn on the tap, nobody really thinks about it too much.
This would probably explain why our water consumption per capita is second only to the United States. Americans average about 400 litres per day for personal use. Canadians use around 350 litres of water per day at an average cost of just under 40 cents per 1,000 litres. This means that a family of four pays about 56 cents a day - or slightly over $ 200 per year - for water.
That's a bargain. By comparison, in England they pay more than $4 per 1,000 litres for their water. Not surprisingly, they consume less than half as much water as we do.
Water is a particularly big issue for my family right now because like most rural Canadians, we get our water from a well. By the beginning of September, the water table has dropped dramatically and we begin the process of rationing water usage. Showers are kept to a minimum and dirty clothes are often taken to the laundromat. Toilets are flushed when there's something solid to send to the septic tank.
The result is we all have a deep appreciation for the simple gift of water. The reality is that without water, you can't function. Go without it for two or three days and you die. Without access to adequate drinking water, this is precisely the threat that 1.2 billion people face every day.
Almost three billion people lack enough water for simple sanitation, like showers (the average American has between seven and nine showers every week) and flushing toilets (which accounts for almost half of U.S. domestic water consumption.)
Short of moving everyone out to the country and providing them with a well, there needs to be a point of awareness that forces the average consumer into conserving water. The answer lies in recognizing its true cost. While the cost per litre may appear to be cheap, the hidden cost of providing water weighs heavily on the residential tax bill. It's estimated that water and sewer infrastructure will cost Canadians $90 billion over the next 20 years.
The good news is that simple, cost effective solutions already exist. Consider the lowly toilet. The average flush consumes between 18 and 20 litres of water. Water efficient toilets use only six litres. The town of Drumheller recently postponed a $12 million expansion of a much-needed wastewater treatment plant for 15 years by retrofitting every house in town with a six-litre toilet. The cost - a little more than $1 million.
Like the plumbing on the 38th floor, most of the costs associated with providing water services are hidden. But when we consider the true costs of water, the Drumheller example proves that small steps in the right direction can lead to huge savings - both for the environment and the financial bottom line.
Recommended Websites:Toto manufactures one of the best-engineered and least expensive (around $100) water efficient toilets available. For more information, go to www.totousa.com.
For a list of informative and entertaining facts about water, visit the Alberta Irrigation Projects Association's (AIPA) Water Quick Quotes page at www.aipa.org/wqqindex.htm.
The Environment Canada report, Economics and Technical Change: The Water Resource Conundrum, by Donald M. Tate and Ray Rivers is posted at www.unesco.org.uy/phi/libros/efficient_water/wtate.html
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