Why reduce water-use?

The following blog post about water use in Canada and other water-rich areas was written by Keerthikrutha Seetharaman. Originally from India, Keerthi is a PhD student in Dr. Kerri Finlay’s lab at the University of Regina, where she is studying limnology. Learn more about the work we’re doing with the University of Regina here.

I am about three years old to Canada and the west itself. I moved here from India in August 2018. In October 2018, I was working on my Master’s thesis project in Costa Rica. While there, I was being assisted by another student from Canada. One afternoon, in the kitchen of where we were staying, I saw my assistant washing dishes. I went in for some other reason and then we began chatting. But, as our conversation progressed, I couldn’t help but notice the way that the dishes were being washed.

In my home in India, we would wet the dishes, turn off the tap, soap up the dishes and then turn on the tap again. But here, the tap was turned on to its full strength, and the water was not being used for just rinsing the dishes. Instead, the dishes were being lathered with soap while the water was running. I couldn’t stop myself, my hands reached out and turned off the tap. If I remember correctly, I also told him, with a bit of condescension, not to waste water, thinking that I was doing the right thing.

At that time, I was two-months old to Canada. I had had no realization that the culture was very different from where I grew up. My assistant, whom I had known for about two weeks by then, had been very kind and friendly to me. By then, I had developed a lot of affection for him. Therefore, I felt comfortable to turn off the tap. But, after having received three days of cold shoulder from him, I learnt that he’d been offended by my action. I had had no idea until then, but once I learnt the reason, I apologized and explained myself.

I told him “You see, I come from the city of Chennai in South India, where while growing up, we had a lot of trouble finding good quality drinking water. The water that was immediately available to us daily was contaminated with iron. It used to run pale yellow in colour. For example, I remember whenever my grandma used to wash white clothes- they used to turn pale yellow and she used to be very sad by it.

We used to get good-quality treated water only once a week. A lorry would come carrying it to our homes. We’d run behind it with pots and whatever vessels we could find to fill them with water. In fact, if I remember right, at some point, the government began restricting the number of pots that one could bring to just two. It was only with this water that we could cook and wash clothes. If the lorry failed to arrive that week or we missed it for some reason, we had to use alum to sediment the water and then use it, but that was not a very healthy thing to do. We were strictly instructed from a very impressionable age to not waste water.

People filling up buckets at the back of a lorry (water tanker)

This happened nearly twenty years ago, but the pain and trauma of it I carry with me until this day. Many of us from this time in Chennai find wasting water a very painful sight. We tend to find wasting water morally incorrect. That was why I had acted that way the other day. I am really sorry.”

Ever since this incident, I have seen many of my friends and colleagues here do the same. As I’ve watched, I’ve held my pain on the inside. I occasionally express my discomfort to them, but they ask me, why do I feel this way in Canada, where there is water in surplus? When posed with this question, I used to stand tongue-tied. The question used to leave me with the following self-doubts: “Maybe the rules of Chennai, where the waters are polluted, the treatment facilities are insufficient, and the rainfall is irregular, don’t apply to a water-rich country like Canada. Maybe I am being unfair?”

However, I recently began challenging this thought process and started doing some research to understand whether every human needs to be conscious of their water use. I have now concluded that reducing water consumption is the way to go-forward.

Aside from the pedestal of morality, compassion to other fellow human beings, and personal pet peeves, I believe the following insights compel all of us to reduce water usage:

  1. When using water, we tend to mix it with other chemicals such as soaps and fertilizers. This water then drains out of our sinks and reaches sewage treatment plants. The more water there is to treat, the more energy is required to treat it. This increases the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere, reduces the ability of ecosystems to function at their best capacity, and increases our expenses through higher water costs.
  2. When too much water is extracted from a lake or a river, then the amount of water available for fish, frogs, and other aquatic life gets reduced. In many cases, this also means that important industries based on these ecosystems, like fisheries, will be adversely affected.
  3. When the water source is groundwater and its over-used, i.e., recharge doesn’t match removal, then land can start sinking (subsidence) resulting in collapse of buildings.
An example of a road sinking due to subsidence

Due to these three reasons and the fact that our populations are still growing, I think we should recognize the importance of sustainable resource use. We should all take part in actively reducing the amount of water we use.

You must then be wondering- how much water do I use per day and how can I reduce the usage? I shall come back to you with the statistics in the next few posts!

Keerthi’s blog post, in Hindi

Keerthi translated her blog post to Hindi with the help of Google translate and Mr. Dheershant Tripathi.