It was recently announced in the media that residents of Pune would face a significant water cut (20-30%) as the dams supplying water to the city have only enough to last for about 15-18 days.
Shocking and scary, to say the least. But then again, it should come as no surprise, given the way we consume water in urban India.
135 litres. That is the official per capita consumption of water per day in urban India, says S Vishwanath, Founder, Rainwater Club. A rough break-up of this reveals just how easily we manage this: 40 litres for flushing ; 20 litres for washing clothes ; 20 litres for bath; 20 litres for dishwashing; 10 litres cooking; 4 litres drinking and the remaining for purposes such as gardening, mopping and so on.
While this is the average, there are localities where the per capita is 260 litres per day (as per a study by Rainwater Club) and then there are those that compensate for this, especially the poor whose per capita may be as low as 60 litres litres per day.
Chandrashekar Hariharan, CEO, Biodiversity Conservation India Ltd (a company that delivers ecologically sustainable living solutions), says, “It is a known fact that Cauvery water feeds less than one-third of the entire need of Bangalore. Seventy per cent of the need is met from out of groundwater resources with borewells accounting for nearly 15 per cent of the city’s demand. The groundwater table in Bangalore has dramatically depleted – from about 200 feet in 1980 to nearly 700 feet in certain parts like Hoskote”.
Hariharan adds,”The good news is, with some very simple harvesting systems that can re-charge open wells in your homes or apartment blocks, you can achieve self-sufficiency in most cases with little reliance on deep borewells or on the Municipal water supply,”
It is true that many of us would construe restriction on water consumption as an intrusion into our personal lifestyle. However, if we want to avoid a situation like Pune, we may need to adopt some basic water conservation measures that suit us best. Or think of it this way, by using 80-90 litres of water per person per day, we would contribute to reducing the ecological burden as we would draw less from our rivers and release less sewage too!
And here’s how we can try.
There are certain devices available in the market that can help you consume less water. Citizen Matters introduces you to some ways of conserving water in your daily use.
Flushing is the single largest user of water in our homes. On an average, each of us flushes at least six to nine times a day. Opting for a dual flush system that utilises either half or the full tank capacity (3/6 litre) for flushing, we would be able to reduce our consumption here considerably. The dual flush system costs anywhere between Rs. 3500 – Rs. 11,000 depending on the model and the brand. Many companies today also offer dual flush retrofitting so that the single flush system can be upgraded without much additional cost.
Another option is to convert your existing flush to a low-flush system by placing a closed bottle of water or a brick/weight that can decrease the water used per flush.
The Eco San and Composting Toilets are also options that use small volumes or no water in the toilet. For more details see the following videos
Machines use less water than washing clothes the traditional way with the tap left open and numerous bucket rinses. Front loading machines use a third less water than top loading fully automatic ones. A good one in the market today is said to use 40 litres of water for a full 4kg load. It is preferable to hand wash cuffs/collars/socks and other heavily soiled clothes since the soak cycle in a fully automatic machine empties the entire water and rinses clothes before refilling for the wash cycle.
The semi-automatic top loading machines have an advantage with their ability to adjust/reduce the cycle time and even reuse the water for another load.
Finally, for better efficiency, it is wise to run only full loads irrespective of the kind of machine that you may have.
Low flow shower heads
Installing Low-Flow shower heads is another effective way to conserve water. It is relatively inexpensive and simple to install, and can reduce consumption significantly. Vishwanath has another suggestion. He says using a low-flow shower in the kitchen sink instead of a tap can bring down water usage by 50 per cent, particularly since we like the water to spread over the dishes while washing.
Minimal usage of water during a bath
- Bucket Bath
Using a bucket, typically one would use approximately 20 – 25 litres of water for a bath.
A 5-minute shower with a standard shower head uses 100 litres of water while a low-flow shower head would use about 35 litres of water. Most showers run at least for 7-8 minutes. Standard shower heads dispense between 20-60 litres of water per minute.
A simple practice is to have a Navy shower, which requires that you turn on the water only to rinse the soap or shampoo.
The steps in a basic navy shower are:
– turn on the water
– immediately wet the body
– turn off the water
– soap up and scrub
– turn the water back on and rinse off the soap
– turn off the water
The total time for the water being on is typically under two minutes. A Navy shower usually takes as little as 11 litres. One person can save 56,000 litre per year by taking a navy shower instead of a 10-min shower.
- Tub Bath
One tub bath would involve at least 250-300 litres per person per day.
Note: Use the thin traditional kerala towels in lieu of the thick turkish towels. They dry faster and use less water in the laundry too.
Tippy Tap is a simple, inexpensive and fascinating device to check water usage while washing hands. Created by Ravi Kumar, from The Centre for Appropriate Technologies, Mysore, the tippy tap primarily consists of a can, which releases a small amount of water – just enough for a clean hand wash (about 40-50ml) – each time it is tipped. And when the ‘tap’ is released, it swings back to its earlier upright position. See this video for a demo.
The tippy tap allows at least 15 people to wash their hands with the same amount of water that would otherwise be used by a couple of people from a regular tap. It is relevant in individual homes near the kitchen/dining table sink, in the garden/terrace and even in schools, offices, restaurants, and other places where people gather. It is interesting to note that the tippy tap is also widely promoted as part of a campaign to check diarrhoea by organisations like UNICEF and the World Health Organisation, as it is a hygienic and efficient method to wash hands.
This page shows you how to make one on your own. The device bought from Centre for Appropriate Technologies, Mysore costs approximately Rs. 60.
Double Bowl Kitchen Sink
In the kitchen, if possible, a double bowl sink is also useful to conserve water. While one bowl could be used for dishwashing and the water goes directly to the sewage, the other bowl could be used for rinsing or washing vegetables and this water could be reused for gardening and so on.
Alternatively, use a bucket to collect the water used to wash vegetables, rice etc. and use it for your plants.
Those of us living in apartments may often wonder how conservation of water in our homes will influence our neighbour’s water consumption habits. Well, the water meter is the perfect device for that. If the plumbing is amenable to it, the residents’ association should ensure a water meter for each apartment. This should be followed up with a reward for households that conserve water and there should be disincentives for those who do not. In the current scenario, the absence of such a measure leaves all of us indifferent to our water consumption patterns.
Water meters cost around Rs. 750-800 each and the cost for a plumber’s work may be around Rs. 150-200.
Reusing grey water is also a key aspect of water conservation. For instance water from the kitchen, from washing clothes or from the shower can be reused easily in the garden or for flushing toilets. Certain plants such as rice and banana thrive on such water and can easily be grown on your terrace or in the garden. Did you know it takes 3000-5000 litres of water to grow 1 kilo of rice?
Of all the water available to us, rainwater is the purest. Harvesting this water minimises your dependency on borewells, tankers and Cauvery water supply. There are different methods of rainwater harvesting (RWH). While new buildings are required to implement RWH, old buildings must also make an effort to reap the benefits.
For those who have gardens, it is important to know that lawns use large volumes of water. Instead, one should look to grow native species of plants and trees and opt for a dry landscape as propagated by the Japanese gardens. Placing a layer of mulch around trees and plants will also help to retain water. Wherever possible, grey water from the home could be reused for the garden.
Eco san is a shortened term for Ecological sanitation. It refers to a system of human toilet systems which separate solids and liquids at source, safely and in a hygienic manner without causing pollution; and uses the nutrient value contained in the waste for growing plants. Typical sanitation solutions have included the septic tank or simply a pit latrine. Both tend to pollute ground water and are environmentally unsatisfactory. Bangalore itself is facing severe problems of groundwater contamination, especially through nitrates.
The Eco San method consumes less than a litre of water per day for a family, converts human waste to a fertilizer resource, is clean, hygienic and functional and can be constructed almost anywhere irrespective of high water tables, hard rock below the ground or any other conditions that might prevent the construction of regular toilets. By harvesting rain water from the rooftop of the toilet into a 200 litre drum all the water requirement of washing in the toilet can be met by the toilet roof itself. For a detailed description on how the Eco San method works, see this.
The Indian style Eco-San pan is being made in Bangalore by N-Fibro Systems in Rajajinagar. For more details contact Biome Solutions at firstname.lastname@example.org
Laundry detergents and household cleaning agents release toxic chemicals into sewage water. Instead, you can switch to using environmentally sensitive products. For instance, DailyDump (a brand of products and services that manage home waste) has made available soapnuts in a ready-to-use form for laundry at home.
All these are but a few options to help you be more conscious of natural resources such as water. Sure we are all creatures of habit and these changes will not happen overnight. But all we need to do is just look for solutions that would work best for us, while also contributing significantly to conserving water.
Finally, as Vishwanath points out, water conservation is not just about saving water for ourselves. It is also about celebrating water and making sure water is available for all other living beings.