Sunday, March 03, 2013

Tap dance

Today, 3rd March, was Arab Water Day or some such commemoration that wasn't publicised in advance. I was listening to the presenters and guests on Dubai Eye talking about how everybody in the UAE wastes 250 litres a day, and that the UAE consumes more water per capita than any other nation on the planet. In a former life I did water audit work. At the time, total domestic daily consumption in the UK was taken as 180 litres per person.

Most potable water comes from desalination, which is a huge consumer of energy, producing millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Even with (the now environmentally friendly because it doesn't produce carbon) nuclear fission producing a quarter of the UAE's electricity by 2020-something, that's still a shitload of drowning polar bears.

The UAE has to reduce its water demand.  According to Dubai Eye, hundreds of dams and more desalination plants are to be constructed, and there are plans afoot to cap domestic consumption.

I have a few ideas relating to reducing consumption.

  • Ensure that everybody pays for the water they use. The most sensitive part of the human body is the wallet.
  • All new builds should include grey water recycling. This can be a nightmare to retro-fit into existing buildings and is only really practical if a building is being seriously renovated. The local version of serious renovation is usually to tear it down and start from scratch. So install a grey water tank, and then you can flush the loo and water the garden with minimally treated shower waste.
  • Don't make it a criminal offence for watchmen to boost their meagre incomes by washing cars with bucket and sponge. And neither make it an offence to have a dirty car. An automatic car wash typically uses between 68 and 265 litres per cycle; whilst enthusiastic use of a hosepipe might use up to 450 litres, a bucket to wash a car plus another to rinse and leather will use probably 20 litres.
  • Discourage houseboys and maids from using hosepipes to sweep sand from driveways. A broom is just as effective and costs nuppence.
  • Try to get the Afghan ex-truck driver who masquerades as a gardener not to leave hoses running for an hour or more. I tried to reduce water consumption by fitting spray nozzles to my garden hoses. He simply removed them every morning, drowned the entire garden, and then refitted them when he left, in the apparent hope that I'd not notice. That was the guy that Beloved Wife fired when she caught him standing in a thunderstorm watering the cacti. His replacement has a similar attitude to water conservation: "I'm not paying for it so it's OK if I waste it."
  • The biggies for domestic consumption are where hosepipes are involved. Modern toilet cisterns are presumably designed with Fitness For Purpose in mind, and many have an economy flush feature for where only liquids are involved, but putting a brick, a hippo, or some other device in the tank to reduce the volume of the flush may be false economy. Apart from the nasty prospect of having to flush again and again, insufficient water flowing in the foul sewers causes very real problems of blocked drains and all that this implies.
  • In accordance with one of the guidelines of Abu Dhabi's Estidama manual, plant native species in public areas where possible. Plants from northern Europe may temporarily look pretty, but they drink a massive amount of water and still have to be replaced when they burn up under the Arabian sun. A lot of the public flowerbeds are watered with treated sewage effluent, which is a step in the right direction, and this re-use of grey water needs to be extended. I refer to my earlier comment.
  • Growing local fruit and veg consumes enormous quantities of water. I'm not going to sit here and do the arithmetic, but the carbon footprint of watering local tomatoes could well be greater than that of air-freighting them from Spain.

As for my bit, the car gets washed once a month down at the EPPCO, the bike generally gets a weekly once-over with a duster and some furniture polish if it's been out. We shower rather than bath. I even turn the tap off while I'm brushing my teeth. Beloved Wife wanted a dishwasher, and I refused until she showed me a model that used less water than washing the pots in the sink. Our extravagance is the garden, and that would use a lot less water if I could convince the gardener (q.v.) that aloe vera and agave really don't need to be drowned every morning. In the winter we seldom get a DEWA bill beyond the green (lowest consumption and therefore cheapest rate) zone of less than 6000 gallons a month. That's still 450 litres a day per person, and is on the whole shameful. Over the past couple of months our consumption has been half that, but it always goes through the roof in the summer.



Paul said...

Dear Goat, always enjoy your rants, this one is particularly dear to my own heart. a couple more thoughts: shower timers - cant seem to find them in Doha; maids washing dishes one by one with the kitchen tap running all the time - they haven't been taught to fill one sink with warm-hot water for washing and the other with cold (assuming you have double bowl) for rinceing. PS we dont have a maid any more, she who must be obeyed decided we could save quite a bit if she took over the duties with my and our son's help. this a woman who has never lived without one and had difficulty boiling water. now cooking fabulous food and keeping the house very tidy. the saving on food, salary, visas, airfares wastage for that extra person is considerable. Cheers, PaulRB-Doha.

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