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Saving water pointless?

The Point of Saving Water

A technical article by Dietmar Rössler, Master's in Geology and Hydrogeology

It is often claimed that there's no point saving water, that saving water is even dangerous. Is this true?

For years, these questions have led to heated debate. Water-saving critics say:

We have an excess supply of water.

That's not completely true.

The volume of water regenerated yearly is indeed significantly larger on average than the volume used, in comparison to other regions of the world. But there are areas in Central Europe where more water is used than is generated, for example in Brandenburg or Saxony-Anhalt. The city of Stuttgart also draws its drinking water from Lake Constance.

Does it not make more sense to be more economical with the existing resources than to build and maintain expensive long-distance pipelines? In the 2003 summer heatwave, many places had a water shortage, even in areas where water is plentiful. It's not clear what effect climate change will have on water resources.

Only 20% of the large water reserves are used.

This is true.
But this 20% is taken out of the natural water cycle. Water that's needed by plants and animals, too. Using 100% of these water reserves would be ecologically unjustifiable. Many experts consider 20% already the maximum we can use. For these experts, increased usage qualifies as "water stress".

Too little outgoing water blocks the sewage pipes.

This is true.
The dimensions of the pipes are too large. Water splashes slowly into the large pipes and is thus unable to flush out large particles. Many pipes were designed and built in the 70s the last century. Back then, they took the rising water usage as a starting point and used this to calculate future water use.

A fatal misjudgment, as usage clearly can't increase at the same rate forever. Old sewage pipes are often made of concrete. The concrete is raw and rough, and is often not tightly connected or even broken. Polluted water enters the soil and even less water flows through the pipes. Water flows slower over rough surfaces and particles get stuck. These pipes need to be flushed on a regular basis.

The solution is to have smaller, smooth pipes made from synthetic materials. The blockages are not caused by saving water but by the large, old pipes. To allow the water to flow well, the pipes need to be on a slope. In many places, it is much too low and sometimes not even existent at all.

Should we waste expensively processed water for no reason, just to make full use of large pipes?

No! Nor do we throw usable items in the garbage just to "feed" the large waste incineration plants. An adaptation of the water pipelines makes far more sense. Whether we opt for new pipelines or expensive maintenance on the old system, it's going to cost either way.

Water that stays in the pipes becomes contaminated and can become a health risk. That can indeed happen, but are we saving so much water that it remains standing in the pipes over long periods of time? Hardly. When no water has been used for a long period of time, it's advisable to let the water run for a couple of minutes first before using it anyway. That can be the case in hotels, for instance, or after moving house. Water must be saved sensibly.

Water is the safest and most well controlled comestible.

There is certainly enough water, but not of the quality we're accustomed to. Here, we can drink water directly from the tap without consideration. It is constantly chemically and bacteriologically monitored – more than any other kind of consumable goods. More than 70% of drinking water is obtained from ground water.

In densely populated Europe, countless harmful substances seep into the ground water. Just think of the fertilizers and pesticides. In many places, water can only be turned into drinking water at great technical and energy expense. Or deeper wells are drilled. Often ground water is no longer able to be protected, so we build long-distance pipelines.

Potable water will become more and more sparse in future. We use roughly 5l of water each day for drinking and cooking. The rest runs through the showers, toilets, dishwashers and washing machines etc., all purest drinking water. A waste in itself.  

We save not only a valuable resource, but also a decent amount of energy.

Warm water needs to be heated. Waste water needs to be purified in energy-intensive water treatment plants. An environmentally-friendly use of water resources should be a matter of course for everyone.

More information on the point and pointlessness of saving water under Why save water?...

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