Saving every drop
Water is one of the essential building blocks of life on the planet. A serious effect of climate change is to reduce the level of fresh water available in many parts of the world, making it increasingly precious. Limiting water use has thus become a top priority in the fight against climate change.
From cold summers to warm winters, unusual and extreme weather conditions are becoming more and more common. In the summer of 2007, people in some regions of the United Kingdom had to leave their homes and were left isolated due to torrential rain and massive floods. Farmers are finding it hard to cope with the disruption to growing seasons and tourists are being scared away by the pictures they see on the news. Far from having positive effects on water reserves, torrential rain tends to overload natural catchment systems and pollute water supplies as sewers overflow.
The problem of water scarcity is equally severe, especially in some parts of the developing world where desertification is driving some people away from the lands of their ancestors. In 1994the United Nations adopted its Convention to Combat Desertification to tackle the problem.
With water in much shorter supply using less and using it more efficiently has become vital. On top of that, getting the water to where it is needed requires a lot of energy. This means that if less water is used, less greenhouse gases are emitted to produce the energy needed to pump it around.
More than a drop in the ocean
There is the potential to reduce water use in the European Union dramatically. “Enormous water savings are possible,” says EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas. “Water saving behaviour by European citizens and industry must be actively encouraged and promoted.” Experts believe that greater use of water saving technologies and appropriate economic measures could reduce water usage in the industrial, agricultural and domestic sectors by up to 40%.
Water is becoming a precious resource and its price should reflect that. It is absolutely vital to improve the management of water resources, and to ensure that local water resources are taken into account when licensing economic activities.
The European Union is involved in a number of water management projects and partnerships across the globe. Under the Cotonou agreement with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, the EU is helping farmers and governments to tackle the effects of droughts and floods and manage the water cycle in a sustainable way. Water shortages are particularly problematic in Africa, where millions of people have no access to a regular supply of clean water, causing widespread health problems.
In the arid Kyzylorda oblast in the southwestern region of Kazakhstan, decades of intensive farming and irrigation have caused the water levels of the Aral Sea and nearby rivers to drop considerably. Poorly designed machinery and old fashioned farming methods have resulted in an environmental and social crisis. An EU-funded project has helped local farmers develop ways to use water more efficiently and to switch to crops more adapted to the harsh environment and require less irrigation.
Tips and technologies
The impact of climate change on water resources and water quality will continue for decades, but there are ways in which we can limit its effects. While much of the responsibility lies with industry, each one of us now uses so much water that every drop we can save will make a difference. Some simple things like taking a shower rather than a bath and turning the tap off while shaving or brushing your teeth can have a notable impact on our daily usage. Checking taps and toilets for leaks and avoiding over-watering of plants and lawns are other useful tips.
A number of new technologies can also be used in our homes to cut water use and help us save money. Installing low-flow showerheads and applying flow restrictors to taps is an easy way to cut water bills. Some washing machines can adjust water usage to the load and toilets with adjustable flushes are already quite common. And many dishwashers use less water than washing dishes by hand.
During the colder months the supply of hot water can easily be improved by better pipe insulation. Installing instant water heaters where hot water is most needed – such as in kitchen sinks and showers – reduces the amount of water wasted while waiting for it to heat up.
But awareness remains one of the best ways to save water. Knowing that the daily amount of water used on average by most Africans is less than the water used to flush a toilet in Europe should highlight everyone's responsibility to use water more efficiently.
The European Commission’s Water Information System for Europe website