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.

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker