A Dry Future 3: Back Home
Besides reducing lawn use, which is one of the largest water-drains in the developed world, there are three main fronts in the developing world where designers and inventors are working to combat the waste or shortage of water. Designs try to either reduce water use, reclaim extra water from the environment, or recycle water through the system before it is thrown out as sewage. Each one has unique opportunities and challenges.
The most obvious way to cut water use among consumers is to reduce the amount each device needs. You've seen this trend playing out since the early 90's (at least in the states, the rest of the world got the message sooner), with low flow toilets, low flow shower heads, and sinks. These are the obvious and easy places, but they still have room for improvement, especially in designing the experience so that it doesn't feel like you're using "50% less water than conventional showers". More innovative savings were created when sinks in airports and other high-traffic, unattended areas went infrared. Besides being more sanitary, they avoided the inevitable all-night running faucet. Delta even makes a beautiful consumer version.
The other two methods go hand in hand, and have so far been confined to the "hippy fringe" or people living pretty far off the grid. But, they are the two most powerful ways to reduce our water use. In principle, they involve creating a separate water system in houses, separate from the main "white water" line. This "grey water" system is filled with "partially used" water. This water isn't drinkable, but it's not "black water" like sewage, or water that contains food particles (like a garbage disposal sink). The theory is that rainwater, and other water sources like sink-run over, and shower drainage are cycled back into the greywater system which feeds the toilets, and possibly the water heating system (if a hot water radiant heating system is installed). If this doesn't seem like a lot of savings, think about how much water is used just getting your faucet up to temperature in the winter time. Wouldn't you feel comfortable using that water to flush a toilet?
The biggest trouble with these systems is there inconvenience (mainly because they require non-standard operating procedures, like using one side of the sink to wash vegetables) and their general lack of beautiful form. And hey, that's what designers are for right? Some enterprising young souls are pushing for change. The Water Wall is one interesting example, and arguably a major step up from the standard 50 gallon drum rainbarrel. Some other designs are not quite as successful. There's definitely room for improvement.
That about wraps it up. Well, of course that doesn't wrap it up; there are thousands of other water problems to be solved, and hundreds of thousands of solutions waiting to be found. Now that you see this small part of the problem, maybe you can see that the best way to combat the future shortages is to consider the impact of every design on water usage. It wasn't so long ago that ergonomics was a novelty, something to emphasize as an advantage. Now it's absolute. A given. How long will it take before water frugality will be treated the same way? Will it be too late? We get to decide.
Copyright 2004-2006 Dominic Muren and IDFuel Team