Following is a brief exploration and perhaps teaser of what’s possible in having, and efficiently using water. The purpose is to reexamine our assumptions about water and energy use, so that we can get far greater savings than are considered normal. I also hope to show that efficiency can help you to greater comfort, independence, and maybe even a touch of financial freedom.
One big difference between first and third world countries is plumbing. Working sewage systems save more lives by far than medicine does, but that’s another story. Here in the US, we have toilets and hot showers, but third world people can show us something about how to get by on far less water. If you had to carry clean water to your home to be used, I’ll bet you would find ways to waste not a drop, as water is heavy. I have a friend who grew up in a village in Africa and she knows how to take a “shower” in one gallon of water. When you must carry your water and then collect sticks, dried cow poop, or whatever to burn for heating the water, you likely won’t take 30-minute showers. I’m just guessing that when she was a child, people in her village would have found flush toilets amusing and stunningly wasteful.
We take eight-minute showers here on average. Even with a low flow showerhead of 2.5 gallons per minute, that’s twenty gallons, or just under 167 pounds. The average American house uses 300 gallons daily, or just over 1-1/4 tons of water. Imagine carrying that home on your head or shoulder! Of course, there are highly technical ways to use less water, like is done on the Space Station. They use about 3.25 gallons per person per day up there because, guess what, water is heavy and transporting it to the Space Station is astronomically expensive! Water is collected from the air, from urine and probably other places, then cleaned up and used again. Hmmm. The least technical and most inexpensive ways of using less water have the benefits of being simple and durable. A real low flow showerhead has little to go wrong, other than hardness buildup. Smaller diameter, shorter pipes hold less water, so will deliver hot water faster with less waste. Toilets that use no water at all could save nearly 30% of your total indoor usage. Just like the most efficient light bulb is one that’s turned off, finding ways to eliminate water usage is a good first, money-saving step.
We understand the meaning of being off grid as it relates to power, but how about being off the water grid? What would it take to live comfortably with only the water our property could generate? There is a lot of interesting technology available which could allow us to cut our demand for water 90% or more. With such low usage, we could consider “water from air” devices instead of digging wells or hooking up to the local water company. I remember reading long ago in “Ripley’s Believe it or Not”, that some fishing villages used to string nets by the shore to collect fog and drip it down into catchment basins. That sounds nicely low-tech, durable, and cheap! I believe we have far more efficient devices now. Of course, we’ll need to see how they hold up over time.
Fortunately, water is the ultimate recyclable material. We can recycle it to our gardens or toilets. With a little more tech, such as distillation, we can turn it back into drinking water, so nearly no new water needs to be imported. All the water on Earth is recycled! Earths’ purification systems work very well to give us water that we can safely use. You have certainly had the same water molecules passing through you that some T Rex of long ago called his. That water has been recycled many times!
Historically, entire civilizations have had to leave their lands in times of extended drought. If we ask what we really want of our hot and cold-water service and combine it with new technology and ideas from elsewhere, perhaps we’ll get a glimpse of our future where we can have true water security. Now that’s comforting!
Looking back over my working life of 50+ years, it seems clear that self sufficiency has always been the best way for me to be useful. Now, mix in a strong interest in water in its many forms and the wide world of animals and you'll know what's important to me.