This year, many parts of the country are again reeling under a drought. There are small farming communities in different regions that are adapting to low water availability. Some are changing cropping patterns, others are reverting to drought-resistant varieties, some are reviving traditional water harvesting structures like step wells, and most are learning to find alternate sources of income.
Urban residents who receive piped water supply, though, tend to be unaware of their daily water usage patterns. There is something seductive about a tap or shower that painlessly supplies water all through the day. In most major cities, piped water comes from extracting ground water or fresh water in the surrounding semi-urban or rural areas.
How can 30% of the country (estimated urban population) reduce its water consumption so that it is not stressing the dry belts even more?
It’s deceptively simple – use every drop of water at least twice.
This has the power to dramatically reduce water usage but it can be challenging to implement. Here is a handy guide to make at least a few of those changes
1. Drinking Water – The purest water in your home is the one used for drinking. Most of us process the water in taps to make it potable. Some use reverse osmosis (RO) units, others boil and filter. If you are using an RO unit, make sure that the waste water is either diverted to your washing machine, or collected in buckets and used to mop the floor. If the quality of waste water isn’t too poor, it can also be used to wash dishes. A plumber can help with this rewiring and tell you more about the quality of the water. Water used for washing vegetables can be directly used in the garden.
2. Wash water – the waste water from the bathroom (after bathing, or washing clothes) is called grey water. This can be collected in a tank and used for flushing the toilet. Alternately, it can be diverted to a small patch with water-loving plants like banana or canna. The water will also help in recharging the ground water. Water from a washing machine can also be diverted towards the ground. If you are using an organic, easily compostable detergent to clean your floors, that liquid is also a good candidate for being released into the ground directly.
3. Wash water + Organic Material – The waste water from washing utensils has bits of food, can grow microorganisms and begin to smell bad. This water needs processing before it can be reused. Instead, there is a simpler method to use water twice in washing dishes. Stop washing vessels under a running tap. Scrape all the food, oil and organic matter and compost them. Soak all dishes in a tub of water with a mild detergent. Then dunk each utensil successively in two small buckets of water and rinse manually. This becomes easier if the scrubber is coarse and the dish wash is a simple powder made of ash or soapnut.
4. Black water – or sewage is the water combined with human solid waste. This is the hardest to reuse and therefore needs to be used as sparingly as possible.
The best method is to switch to dry toilets that process wet and dry waste separately. That can be difficult transition. Until then, consider using low flow cisterns that use about 5 litres of water per flush. An alternative (jugaad) method is to place a brick inside the flush tank to reduce the volume of water used in every flush. The simplest, of course, is to manually shut off the flush after 2-3 seconds. All of these can be from the water that has already been used to wash clothes.
Among the saddest parts of urban planning is the way in which various types of water are blended with sewage and unnecessarily converted into black water. There are, however, changes possible to reduce water consumption at the domestic level.
And of course, you are already harvesting rain water aren’t you?
For more information, contact The Rain Centre in Chennai.