Welcome to August! This month’s challenge takes place in your pipes…
August goal: To reduce your water use!
We live in a country surrounded by water – no New Zealander lives farther than 120 kilometres from the sea. The South Island is also home to one of the wettest places on earth – Fiordland – which receives over 7 metres of rain every year. And even still, amongst all this water, water conservation is a matter worth considering. Why? Because fresh clean water is one of the most important ingredients for all life on this planet. And fresh water, even here, is increasingly under pressure. Rivers in parts of the country are overdrawn by decades-old permitting processes in a way that threatens the ecology of what’s left behind. Pollution from agriculture, runoff from increasing urbanization and antiquated sewer systems has created unswimmable rivers. And the looming uncertainties of climate change bring further concern for this vital resource.
Our freshwater systems are also important to the oceans. Anything that goes washing down a river eventually ends up in the sea. Pollution inputs and/or reductions in the amount of freshwater reaching the ocean will have long-term impacts on the ecology of a place we all hold dear.
And whether you want to think of it this way or not, water is a commodity. A good that can be bought, sold and traded to other countries whose water wealth may not be as prevalent as ours. Having access to clean water could become increasingly important from an international trade perspective in the future.
So what can we do? The answer is twofold. First, we can simply use less water. The average Auckland household uses 174 litres of water per day in winter and slightly more in summer. Most of this water is used for showers and baths (31%), followed closely by laundry (24%), toilets (19%) and taps (16%). Water conservation in the home isn’t rocket science. Most of us know what to do, it’s just a matter of committing ourselves to making changes and practicing those changes until they become part of our everyday routine. So find a couple of water-saving practices that you think could work for you and try them out this month. See the resources section below for tips about where to start.
Secondly, you can use your voice and your vote to stand up for a resource that can’t speak for itself. If you’re looking to have a bigger impact on the state of New Zealand’s freshwater systems, get educated, and get talking to your friends, your family and your elected representatives about the issue. Fresh water is a hot topic as the country struggles to reconcile its clean green image with its polluted freshwater systems and the industries that impact those systems (see these two New Zealand Geographic articles: Troubled Waters and No Swimming). Freshwater systems need advocates, and the Government (at all levels) needs to hear from those who value them.
Reduce Reuse Recycle… it applies to water too!
How to participate:
Choose the level below that works for you, and don’t forget to upload a picture of yourself finding ways to reduce, reuse or recycle your water. Include the hashtag #OSOFSustainableMe and you could feature on the Plastic Free New Zealand page!
Here’s what to do:
Beginner: Find one or two basic water-reducing behaviours that you think can work for you and your family and practice them for the full month. Good beginner activities include taking shorter showers, turning the tap off while brushing teeth and washing hands or run your dishwasher and washing machine only when full. See the resources section below for more.
Step it up: If you are able, find bigger ways to reduce your household water use such checking your existing plumbing for leaks, installing low-flow taps and showerheads and purchasing water-efficient appliances when it’s time to buy. People at this level might also be ready to try flushing the toilet less often or wearing clothes (especially middle and outer layers) more than once before washing.
Want more? Speak up! Advocate for our water by talking with your elected officials at the local, regional and national levels. Get involved with a local advocacy group, support water-related organizations of your choosing or just go out and care for your local waterway. You could organise a cleanup day, help with local riparian zone planting or fencing efforts or come up with another way to help out that is meaningful to you.
How does it help?
Clean water is vital to every living thing on our planet. The less water we use, the more water is available for the ecosystems that sustain us. Maintaining healthy rivers that flow at adequate levels to the sea is a no brainer.
Resources: (Please note, this is not an endorsement of these organisations, stores or products from OSOF, just a suggestion of how to get started)
How to use less water:
Water saving tips from Northland Regional Council
About our water:
Ministry for the Environment’s report: Our Fresh Water 2017
Can I swim here? Land, Air, Water Aotearoa (LAWA)
Contributor: Andrea Greene-Liberatore