Water conservation: Is it possible to make a smaller splash?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

With a drought on the way, we need to start saving water now. In his bid to go from torrent to trickle, Simon Usborne dries out

A A A

Twenty litres of water looks like quite a lot when it's laid out in front of you in 10 bottles. But it is considered by development experts to be the minimum amount a person needs each day for the basics – drinking, cooking and washing – in countries where water is most scarce. At this rate, those places may one day include Britain, where ministers this week hosted a drought summit and warned of a repeat of the thirsty days of 1976, when water was rationed and forests were so dry many burned down. Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, urged us all to start checking our consumption, "so we can mitigate the impact in the future".

How much water do you use in a day? I had no idea. I'm a bad conservationist and – shoot me now – will admit to leaving the tap running while I brush my teeth. At the start of a day in which I prepare to test the 20-litre limit, I turn on my shower and offer it a 2l mixing bowl. It fills in just 14 seconds, and my shower isn't even the most powerful (the real Niagara models knock out water at twice that rate).

I then clamber in and start a stop watch. I wash, I hum, I daydream. Seven minutes and 35 seconds later, I cut the tap and reach for a calculator. Barely minutes into my day, I have used 65l of the world's most precious resource.

The flow does not stop. I brush my teeth, tap on (6l). I have breakfast, boil a kettle (1l), shove my dishes into the washer, which is almost full so I turn it on (20l). I put on my laundry (40l) and go to work. I drink about 3l during the day, consume water used to produce my lunch and dinner (a small bag of salad, for example, can "cost" 50l of water). I flush the loo (6l a time) and wash my hands. I don't have a garden (hoses can draw 15l a minute) but I do have a basil plant that will probably be dead in a few days, but I give it a glass of water anyway. By the end of an average day like mine, the average person in Britain consumes not 20l a day – but 155l.

It would be facile to restrict myself to 20l, I decide. British consumption is actually quite good by Western standards (Americans use 370l every day) and I would have to make significant hygienic sacrifices to have any hope of hitting my target. But I can do better. I start with that shower. I'm already better off than if I washed horizontally; a bath uses about 80l of water and, anyway, my flatmates turn up their noses when I offer the government's advice in 1976 to "save water, bath with a friend". I cut out the humming, turn on the tap half way, and off, unless I'm rinsing. In 2009, television adverts in Brazil urged people to pee in the shower, to save flushes. I don't do this.

I discover "eco" buttons on my washing machine and dishwasher, which promise to cut consumption by half. I invest in a Hippo, a plastic bag that takes up space in my loo cistern to slash the flush volume. At work, accessing the cistern would require a hard hat and a risk assessment, I decide that if it's possible not to flush without leaving evidence, I won't. This means drinking more water, but is, on balance, more economical.

I resolve to stop buying water-intensive foods, which can be tricky; even producing a pint of milk requires more than 2,000 pints of water on its journey from teat to table. I decide I will wash my car even less frequently – it's not smart enough to impress anyone even when clean.

I console myself with the thought that I'll probably never be able to afford to have a garden anyway (but persevere with the basil). But what I do above all things for, to my shame, the first time, is to think about a resource that we may all be forced to consider when our taps start to splutter. And with these small steps, I calculate I have cut my average consumption in half, to more like 80l a day. And if saving the environment weren't motivation enough, I look forward to receiving my next water bill.

News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
News
David Ryall in Harry Potter
people
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Wayne Rooney warms up ahead of the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane
football
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have previous experience...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015