World Environment Day: How 3 days in a village without water helped us realise that small steps can go a long way in conservation

It is World Environment Day and as social media fills up with #WorldEnvironmentDay posts, it got us thinking… given the situation we are in today, shouldn’t everyday be World Environment Day?

It’s been a month since we have been travelling in Uttarakhand and even in these pristine environs where one would expect to encounter the full bounty of the abundance of nature, a recurring theme has been been water shortages and the impact of climate change. While the theme for this year has been to tackle plastic and New Delhi hosts the WED events, water is an important aspect that also needs to be addressed.

Recently Shimla made a plea to tourists to stay away due to water shortages that are so acute that residents are queuing up at public water taps to fill buckets. Here in Uttarakhand, in Almora, Chaukori, Kasardevi, Sari, Gopeshwar and Kausani, places we have visited in the last few weeks, are all facing water shortages this summer. Even places like Munsiari, where till recently water problems were unheard off now have the ubiquitous green water tanks atop homes.

Interestingly this water shortage and the realisation that we regularly consume waaay more water that we need, hit home whilst in Sari village.

Scenes from Sari

A few days before we reached Sari, Rajani one of the owners of Cafe Buransh, the homestay where we were spending a couple of days in the village, called to inform us that for the period of our stay they would be unable to provide us running water. The kund or pond that supplied water to the village had dried up, due to poor snowfall the preceding year, and the village was struggling for water.

Rajani was emphatic that while they deeply regretted the inconvenience caused to their guests,  providing running water to us meant using up the already scarce resources meant for the villagers, and they had taken a conscious decision not to do that. We were given the option of cancelling our stay, but if we chose to go ahead, they would provide us enough water in buckets for our needs.

As first the thought of having no running water was a bit disconcerting, what about the toilet, but we discussed it and decided to go ahead anyway. We had been bathing with buckets in most places in Uttarakhand, so that didn’t make much difference to us, and we wanted to support Cafe Buransh’s laudable efforts to conserve water and ensure that the locals had the water they needed for their crops and daily needs.

The stay at Sari proved eye opening to us, not just on how little water one could get by on if an effort to conserve is made, but how small adjustments in the way we did things could save loads of water. For the 3 days we were in Sari we used between the two us, less than 3 buckets of water a day. We used this to bathe, wash our hands, go to the loo, brush and even wash a couple of necessary pieces of clothing!

This is approximately 50 – 60 Litres of water a day for ALL our needs for the both of us. That’s just about 30 litres per capita.

And you know what …. it didn’t even feel like we needed to put too much thought into it or make a huge effort. The three buckets were quite enough.

Compare this to the average shower which for 10 minute uses about 35 – 50 Litres of water, which means that the average couple will use upwards of a 100 litres a day for regular needs, conservatively speaking. Add in things like washing machines, bathtubs, water wastage through RO machines, water used for washing cars, floor mopping and toilet flushes and that number will increase exponentially.

It is estimated that the average urban household consumes upwards of 150 litres a day per person! In large cities with highrises and 24 hours piped water this number could go up to 250 – 500 litres a day, which in a water scarce nation like India is just criminal!

Even in the pristine, hilly environs of Uttarakhand, water problems abound.

Now we are not advocating that you dismantle your shower and sell your washing machine, but here are a few easy things you can do to conserve water.

  1. Make sure your showers are as short as possible.
  2. Turn your taps off… whilst washing dishes, shaving, brushing your teeth and anything else. Use a mug instead of using the tap.
  3. Don’t flush every time you pee! The average flush tank uses 10 litres of water per flush! So when its yellow let it mellow 🙂
  4. Re-use water wherever possible, water used for washing veggies or fruits can be used to water plants or for the toilet.
  5. Avoid washing your car everyday. Studies suggest that washing a car uses upwards of 10 litres of water a day and if you use a hose that could go up to 50 – 75 litres! Washing your car on alternate days will help save significant amounts of water.
  6. Reverse Osmosis (RO) Water purifiers create 2-3 litres of waste water for every 1 litre of drinkable water. If you can avoid using RO filters at home (in areas where there is soft water, regular carbon filter purifiers are preferred) its fantastic. If not store the waste water in buckets and use it for things like mopping floors, watering plants, using in the toilet etc.

Just to understand the impact, implementation of these simple methods could help you save close to 100 litres of water a day! 

All these methods do take some effort on our part but are really about changing habits more than anything else. Remember in a few years with water shortages becoming routine, this just may be the way you will have to do things. Why not take small steps now?!

This World Environment Day, it is time we all realise just how crucial water is for us and how much of it we waste on a daily basis. Just being aware of our usage can help, even if it is in a small way.

Hey there! If you liked this story or need some more information, do let us know in the comments below! :)