Monday, April 18, 2011

Why I use less water when it rains

I slacked off a little on my water conservation efforts this winter. I tried to keep taking navy showers but some days it was just too chilly and I wanted to leave the water on. It was my little luxury in a house where the thermostat is set to "cold enough you need to wear a toque".

But now that it has warmed up I'm trying to get back into the habit. I'm making a special effort to reduce my water usage when rain is in the forecast. That's because by reducing my water use on those days, I can help to reduce the amount of raw sewage that is dumped into the Ottawa river.

How's that you say?

Well the short answer is that a lot of the sewage pipes in Ottawa are combined sewer pipes. These pipes carry both the waste water from residential homes (from toilets, washing machines, kitchen sinks etc.) as well as the run off water from the street. And according to the City of Ottawa website:

"In the City of Ottawa, the large interceptor sewers can’t handle all of the storm water runoff that enters the sewer system during wet weather. Most of the wastewater is transported to the treatment plants, but to prevent basement flooding and sewer back-ups some of the rain and wastewater mixture is allowed to overflow to the river."

A lot of sewage has been dumped into the Ottawa river in the last 6 weeks. 212,503 cubic metres to be exact. And almost all of it has been on days where we've had a heavy rainfall.

The city is working on the problem and has a 17 project strong Ottawa River Action Plan. They are also maintaining an on-line list of every sewage overflow event including the date, the amount of sewage released into the river and the reason (97% of the 68 events in the last year have been due to rain). They even have an RSS feed set up on this list so that you can be notified every time an event happens.

However, 212,503 cubic metres is a shitload of, well, shit. And its making a mess of our river and our beaches.

But the cool thing is, we don't have to wait for the city to complete the projects on the action plan.

Some things all of us can do to prevent this sewage overflow are:

  • take navy showers

  • use low flush toilets

  • "let it mellow "

  • use shower water to flush the toilet

  • do laundry on a day when it isn't raining (bonus - get to hang it outside to dry!)

  • don't leave the tap running when doing dishes or brushing your teeth

  • defrost meat in the fridge (or cooler!) rather than under running water

Any other suggestions?

For more on this, check out the Ottawa Riverkeeper blog post from March 31, 2011 - "Out of control: Sewage continues to spill into the Ottawa River " if you want to learn more.