Canadian Water Conservation Essay, Research Paper
The importance of protecting our water resources cannot be overstated. In economic terms, Environment Canada estimates that the measurable contribution of water to the Canadian economy ranges between $7.5 billion and $23 billion per year. In environmental terms, water is the lifeblood of the planet. Without a steady supply of clean, fresh water, all life, including human, would cease to exist.
Fortunately, Canada is blessed with an abundance of water. However, that abundance has led to misuse and abuse of the resource: from household toilets that use 20 liters per flush where 6 liters would do(Tesar, 1998), to industrial plants that use water bodies as convenient sewers.
The quantity, quality and economic problems we face as a result of our use of water are complex but, at least one of the causes of these problems is easy to manage the way we waste water. And, the solution is straight forward water conservation. Simply stated, water conservation means doing the same with less, by using water more efficiently or reducing where appropriate, in order to protect the resource now, and for the future. Using water wisely will reduce pollution and health risks, lower water costs, and extend the useful life of existing supply and waste treatment facilities.
We use water in many ways, and assign different values to those uses. Instream uses such as transportation and recreation are valued highly, but it has proven difficult to give them a dollar value that has any real meaning. For example, just what would the average consumer be willing to pay to swim in a clean lake or for a chance to catch fish in a clean, unpolluted river? This is where Environment Canada encounters discrepancies when determining the net worth of water.
By far the greater number and variety of water uses occur on land. These are called withdrawal uses and, although important to our daily lives, they have tended to be assigned a low value. Water is withdrawn, used and then discharged. Most withdrawal uses consume some of the which means less is returned to the source than was taken out. And, after it has been used, the quality of the water that is returned is often diminished, which has a negative impact on both the environment and recreational instream uses.
In 1991, five main withdrawal uses accounted for a gross water use in Canada of 57.9 billion m3. See Figure 1 in the diagram section for a graphical analysis of the five main uses.
Thermal power generation includes both conventional and nuclear power generating plants, which withdrew about sixty three percent of the total water intake in 1991. This is the greatest user of Canada s water resources. Manufacturing accounted for sixteen percent of water withdrawals in 1991. Food and beverages, chemicals, paper and allied products, and mineral fuels were the main industrial users. Agriculture accounted for nearly nine percent of total withdrawals. Water is used primarily for irrigation, with Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan accounting for ninety five percent of all irrigation demand. Since the majority of irrigation water evaporates, only a small fraction is returned to its source. Mining use, including metal mining, non-metal mining, and the extraction of coal, accounted for one percent of all water withdrawals in 1991. Water is used by the mining industry to separate ore from rock, to cool drills, to wash the ore during production, and to carry away unwanted material. Municipal use accounted for eleven percent of all water withdrawals in 1991. In the municipal sector, about forty nine percent of the water demand is a result of residential use. Figure 2 illustrates municipal water use by each sector.
About sixty three percent of Canadians pay water rates that do not promote conservation. A 1994 study of rate structures by Environment Canada showed that forty six percent of the population was under a flat rate structure which is a fixed charge regardless of the amount of water used. This kind of plan is one that needs to be changed in order to make people realize there will soon be a shortage of water if we do not conserve and reuse more meticulously. Another seventeen percent were under a declining block rate structure, where the consumer’s bill rises at a slower rate as higher volumes of water are used; i.e., the more you use, the less you pay per unit. This is clearly the plan that is most in need of provisions to create public awareness about the country s water issues .
Only about thirty seven percent of the population was found to be under a rate structure that provided an incentive to conserve water. Thirty three percent were under a constant rate structure, this is where the bill to the consumer climbs uniformly with the volume used. Four percent were under an increasing block rate structure, where a successively higher price is charged as larger volumes of water are used. This is the best plan for promoting water conservation and would help tremendously if it was implemented in more municipalities.
Raising the price of water per unit has reduced water use in some jurisdictions, but it must be accompanied by a well articulated public education program that informs the consumer what to expect.(Environment Canada, 1999)
Tied to price increases, metered households generally show reductions in water-use of twenty percent or more, with the greatest savings occurring during the summer months, when water use is usually much higher due to frequency of lawn watering, car washing and other outdoor uses. And yet, only about fifty two percent of Canada’s urban population was metered in 1994. London accounts for some of this figure, because this is how we pay for our water use.
Metering of industry has been common for some time. What’s new is the metering of the return flow to the sewer system, particularly as it relates to the industrial sector. Case studies conducted by Environment Canada show that including sewage treatment in rate calculations generates greater water savings. An increasing number of municipalities are applying sewer surcharges to residential water bills. Sewer treatment is usually an unseen cost that consumers do not think of when considering water use. These sewer surcharges are another good idea that the government has come up with to create increased public awareness about water conservation. See Figure 3 for a breakdown of where the most water is used within the home.
In addition to water supply and billing issues, water quality is a problem in many Canadian communities. Generally speaking, the decline in water quality is due to the way we use water. Even something as simple as rinsing dishes in the kitchen creates wastewater that is contaminated to some degree. Once this water enters the sewer system, it must be treated in a sewage treatment plant. These facilities are never one hundred percent effective, which means that some water quality deterioration remains after the treatment process. See Figure 4 and Figure 5 for a simple explanation of the sewage treatment process.
Connor (1998), states that specific causes of impaired water quality are numerous, including: agricultural runoff containing the residues of fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals, industrial pollution, either directly from the facility, or indirectly from the leaching of chemicals from landfills, or pollution from average households in the form of improperly treated municipal sewage. In 1994, almost eighty two percent of urban Canadians were served by wastewater treatment plants. Of the remaining urban population, eleven percent were served by individual septic tanks, and seven percent (over 1.5 million people) discharged from sewers directly to the environment.
For the roughly twenty five percent of the Canadian population served by private wells and septic disposal systems, the news regarding water supply and quality is not much better. These systems were originally designed for houses that were widely separated from their nearest neighbor, such as farmhouses and the occasional rural residence. Yet, today, in many parts of the country, individual private wells are being installed in subdivisions at suburban densities. The primary danger here is that too many wells may pump too much water for the aquifer to sustain itself.
Septic treatment systems associated with these developments can stress the environment in a number of other ways. They are often allowed in less than satisfactory soil conditions and are seldom maintained properly. They are also unable to treat many household cleaners and chemicals which, when flushed down the drain or toilet, often impair or kill the bacterium needed to make the system work (The same applies in urban systems). The end results are improper treatment of wastewater if not outright failure of the system and the contamination of adjacent wells with septic effluent containing bacterium, nitrates and other pollutants.(Cairn, 1997)
Once these contaminants are in the groundwater, they eventually reach rivers and lakes. In other words, once we have a pollution problem, we may be only a step away from a water supply problem.
As we enter the 21st century, we find ourselves at a critical point and with very little time in which to undo environmental damage and bring water resources to the point at which they can maintain themselves naturally. We must now think in terms of sustainable development: using and managing resources and the environment in such a way that they both maintain a strong economy and preserve a healthy environment today and in the years to come.(Tesar, 1998)
All of us must do our part government, industry, public interest groups, individuals at home, at school, at the workplace, while working, while playing, while traveling. It is time to re-examine our values, make thoughtful choices, and adjust our lifestyles to give more consideration to the environment. This includes changing our water use habits in ways that will help the resource
sustain itself and maintain its quality.
It is important for each one of us to act not only for ourselves and our children, but for future generations and for the other living things sharing the earth with us.
Environment Canada claims that municipal governments across Canada are beginning to take action to manage the demand for water, instead of seeking new sources of supply. Demand management, incorporating water efficient applications, is rapidly gaining popularity as a low cost, effective way to get more service out of existing systems, thus delaying or deferring the need for constructing new works. The benefits of water efficient techniques apply equally well to rural, private wells and septic disposal systems, as they do to central water and sewer systems in the city.
The irony in all of this is that water quality impacts from overloaded or poorly maintained and operated municipal and private sewage disposal systems are the number one preventable type of pollution in Canada. The answer lies in better, more thorough treatment. And, one of the ways to enhance the treatment process is to limit the amounts of wastewater entering the wastewater stream. Again, water conservation is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to reduce the volume of wastewater flows and improve water quality. As we have seen, water quality and quantity are two sides of the same coin. How does saving water help water quality? Because water saved is water that does not end up in the wastewater stream requiring treatment. This, in turn, reduces municipal pumping and treatment costs and frees up monies that can be used for infrastructure renewal and replacement and protection of supply sources. Less wastewater in the sewage treatment plant also means that the plant has a better chance of doing the job it was intended to do.
Water conservation. The message is clear. If we each save a little, it can add up to major savings in water, energy and money. For the average household, reductions in water use as high asthirty five percent or more are feasible (Environment Canada, 1999), just by cutting back on the amount of water we normally use.
The benefits don’t stop at the household or business. The municipal water and sewer department gets a break on the amount of water it has to pump to our homes and businesses and on the amount of wastewater it has to treat in sewage treatment plants. Water conservation can extend the useful life of municipal water supply and treatment plants, and will benefit the operating efficiency, and life expectancy, of private septic disposal systems.
And, finally, water conservation can generate significant environmental benefits. It can reduce water diverted and the pollution loadings on our lakes and rivers by reducing the volumes of wastewater which we have to treat. This can help to protect our drinking water and the ecological balance in sensitive aquatic ecosystems.
If we all practice water conservation, everyone and everything benefits.