Wednesday, 12 March 2008


When considering our personal water use, governments fail to differentiate between those who grow and cook most of their own food and work at home or from home, and those who only sleep at home and live, eat, play and work outside the home. The former, I believe, uses far less water than the latter, despite it appearing to be the opposite when only household water bills are considered. One's water consumption cannot ever be accurately measured because, in this consumer-driven world, you would have to count the amount of water used to make everything a person bought over a given time, as everything uses water in its manufacture.

When you take into account the fact that those of us who belong to the former group also mostly buy second hand things - cars, tools, furniture, machinery etc then it becomes all the more clear that water consumption calculation is a very complex issue and cannot be measured at a domestic water meter alone. I think there needs to be a table / equation devised where we put into it all these considerations and receive a number, similar to the rating of appliances with the green stars. We would soon find out who is really mis-using the earth's water supplies.

Using another table we could calculate our green-house gas emissions because the two are inextricably linked - taking into consideration things that really make a difference, not just appearances. For example, we have 2 cars and 1 is a massive 2 ton, 4-wheel drive. We only really used this for driving in places that needed a 4 wheel drive (on holidays) when our children were living with us and when towing trailer loads of heavy, second-hand stuff up that steep hill when were doing landscaping. Apart from that, always, and I mean always, Roger drives it to the bottom of our steep hill (about 2km), leaves it there for the day and rides his push-bike from there to the city (where he catches a train to work and has to pay to take his bike!), and all over the place when doing shopping etc. He also works at home 2 days every week. We no longer even want a 4 wheel drive but is it worse to keep it and use it a little or sell it (to someone who would drive it all the time) and buy something smaller? Large amounts of water are used at every stage of the vehicle manufacturing process as well as in the mining of oil and in fuel processing. But green house gas emissions are only currently calculated on that produced by the running of the car, not its production. The hybrid cars, for example, may require a lot of other inputs (I don't pretend to know anything about this) due to their battery systems but this is never openly discussed. A perfect calculation would take all of this information into account and give you your "green-worth" as a total of all water usage, greenhouse gas emissions and other factors.

When we consider that large numbers of people these days buy bottled water, and this is purchased in small or large, plastic containers, we see again the link between water use and green-house gas emissions. Moreover, if you buy food from interstate or overseas, not only must the water use of growing the food be taken into account but also the enormous amounts of water used in the manufacture and running of the trucks, trains, planes and machinery involved at every step of the way. Not to mention the enormous wastage of food and yet more water if your meals are regularly eaten at a restaurant. I can immediately tell you that, for people who grow even some of their food and buy the rest locally, direct from organic producers at farmers' markets, their water consumption would be a minuscule fraction of the international consumer.

Again I want to mention our own situation, and I make no apologies for what seems to be, at first glance, hypocritical. We have swimming pool - small and shallow, in the whole scheme of pools. When we put it in 5 or more years ago it was not a crime and we thought it out as carefully as we thought necessary at the time. We use far less than the recommended amount of chemicals and I wish we didn't have to use any. I still feel quite positive about it despite media claims of the opposite. Here is just one reason why. Yesterday son Alex had 10 friends around for a swim and a BBQ. Using the pool does not use any more water than having it unused. I picked all the salad ingredients from the garden, I made a beautiful lemon tart from lemons someone gave me, yoghurt from a local farm and eggs from our own chooks. He cooked some chops from the lamb I bought from Glenys' neighbour plus some he bought at a local shop (unknown source, however). Those friends stayed for about 10 hours. Alternative activities for 10, 20+ year olds would have been far less environmentally friendly. Of course this does not happen daily and having a pool is, I agree, a slight blot on my copybook!

Outcomes are only as good as the regulations allow and current water regulations are ludicrous in the extreme. My mother grows all the fruit for her extended family yet the government only allows her the same consideration as someone who buys all their fruit from elsewhere and lives in an apartment. When industries (food producers) on the River Murray are penalised with severe water restrictions for growing food for Australian consumption while other industries (manufacturing, electricity production, transport etc) who receive their water via pipes to the city, from the same river, and use far more water, have no restrictions, it beggars belief!

So, the calculation of a person's water usage is a very complex issue and must not be confined to looking at a meter. My advise to you is to turn on your taps and water your food garden well, in the knowledge that this is the best way to use our precious water. Take all these thoughts with you through the day and work on reducing not your water meter reading but your total water reliance.

ps I was inspired to write this after reading Greg's post on Are We Green Yet? which helped get my brain moving through the sludge of a hot day! I think my brain is still a bit murky as this post doesn't read as well as I had hoped! Please feel free to provide me with some robust comments!


Greg W said...

Hi Kate,

I like the fact that you are taking into account the cost to all of us, through green house gas emissions and water usage, of manufacturing a product along with using the product. Not enough of us do. It would be great if we could have everything we need made and grown locally but I fear this would be a vastly more inefficient system than what we currently have in place. We have gotten so used to having everything we want whenever we want that we have gotten spoiled and that will make this monster even more difficult to tame.

I find myself being overly cynical at times that this world will ever wake up and do what’s right so when I read about someone else growing their own food, even a little of their food, and things like the ‘eat local movement’ it shows that people are beginning to realize it has gotten out of hand.

It reinforces my hope that maybe things are beginning to change, however slowly. After all, we didn’t create this mess overnight.

I think we both know doing our part will not change the world, that would require a huge culture shift, but at least we can sleep a little easier knowing we are doing something.

As far as the pool goes, I don’t think you are being hypocritical at all. You are not taking anything away from anyone else by having it, you are using it for awhile, as it all gets return to nature sooner or later.

Happy Gardening, Greg

Tracy said...

This is a great post Kate. It is impossible to truly calculate a persons water usage and you are right, better to use the water growing more food in your own backyard.

I only have rainwater tanks for my home water supply so care must always be taken with water usage. But, even using this water, relies on electricity to run our pump so it is costing us greenhouse gases. I try to be as efficient as possible with watering but there are always improvements to be made.