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.

Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
Al Pacino in ‘The Humbling’, as an ageing actor
filmHam among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Mario Balotelli in action during his Liverpool debut
football ...but he can't get on the scoresheet in impressive debut
Environment
Pigeons have been found with traces of cocaine and painkillers in their system
environmentCan species be 'de-extincted'?
Arts and Entertainment
booksExclusive extract from Howard Jacobson’s acclaimed new novel
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
A Pilgrim’s Progress is described by its publisher as “the one-and-only definitive record” of David Hockney's life and works
people
Sport
Loic Remy signs for Chelsea
footballBlues wrap up deal on the eve of the transfer window
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker
TV
Life and Style
Instagram daredevils get thousands of followers
techMeet the daredevil photographers redefining urban exploration with death-defying stunts
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'
TVDaughter says contestant was manipulated 'to boost ratings'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

English Teacher

£100 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Randstad Education are curren...

Web Developer (Infrastructure, JavaScript, jQuery, jQuery UI)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Web Developer (Infrastructure, JavaScript, jQuer...

DT Technician

£65 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: DT Technician required to start...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Manchester - Huxley Associates

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: One of SThree's most successfu...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor