Hot and cold running water is a relatively new luxury, and of course it's still available only to those living in 'civilized' places. In the United States most of us can simply turn a tap and have cold fresh water instantly, and hot fresh water in a matter of moments. No walking out to the river or pond or well with jugs to carry back on head or shoulders, and no frequent worries about supplies or basic purity.
In most locales, water is cheap -- really cheap. Where we are in Connecticut, the basic rate as of summer 2010 is $2.78 for 100 cubic feet of water. That's 748 gallons of water at less than half a penny per gallon. (Makes you think twice about buying a gallon of water in a plastic jug for $1.00 at the grocery store. That's quite a mark-up, and a plastic jug to recycle, too. For designer-brand water you can pay a 1000% mark-up.)
What if tap water were, say, 25 cents a gallon? Filling a kettle would cost about 20 cents. A good shower would cost about $1.50. You'd think twice about watering your lawn if it didn't actually need it. You might even decide you didn't need a chemically fertilized, perfectly green, maniacally tended yard.
But water is very, very cheap. So what do we do? We let it run down the drain. We take long, luxurious showers. We use two and a half gallons of water to flush away half a pint of pee. We let leaky faucets and valves drip for days, weeks, months. We water lawns that need no watering. We wash cars that need no washing.
The fresh-water issue can't be considered separately from other conservation and environmental concerns. Already, water is in critically short supply in some areas of the world, and in parts of the United States.
We have a morning ritual in our house that might seem strange or inconvenient. It is, in fact, a little of both if you've never lived on a boat or in a camper or in any place where fresh water isn't a given. We keep a quart container by the bathroom sink. When we open the hot-water tap in the morning, the first gallon of water runs cold. So we catch that cold water in the container. The first quart is for tooth-brushing and sink-rinsing. The last three go into the toilet tank as it refills after the morning flush, taking the place of water that would have to be piped in.
We save 300 gallons a year in that one bathroom. That's about 40 cubic feet -- just a little over a dollar's worth of water where we live, but quite a lot of water in reality -- enough to supply a family of four for drinking and basic washing for two weeks. Multiply those savings by a few thousand families, and it can make a difference in the local water supply overall.
~ Doug Logan, New Energy Watch