What is water conservation? Why should I care?
Although the Land Between has many lakes, rivers, aquifers (natural groundwater reserves) and wetlands, these water systems are fragile. As climate change continues to progress, the negative impacts that we have on our water sources will become more amplified and may take many years to remediate. In order to ensure that we minimize our impacts on water recharge, water levels and ecosystem health, we must ensure that we participate in water conservation. Water conservation is the act of minimizing water use. All life on Earth depends on water, however our water supply is not unlimited. The way we use and consume water can have lasting impacts on our lakes, rivers and aquifers if not appropriately managed. Damage or deterioration of water quality has significant economic, esthetic and health impacts. In many cases, once contamination or depletion occurs it can take thousands of years to fix.
Water conservation and wells
Many rural properties do not have municipal access to water and must rely on drawing water from wells. Wells are often replenished through aquifers of finite size which can take years to fully replenish. In Ontario, many wells have maximum safe yield documentation (depending on when they were created) that informs property owner about how much water they can use without greatly impacting their well supply. If you are concerned or unsure about your maximum safe yield refer to this Ontario Well Water guide. Practicing water conservation on your property can help reduce the risk your well running dry and avoid the costs of $5000-12,000 to dig a new one (if possible).
Overloading your septic system can contaminate your well water
If you are living on a rural property with no municipal water service, than you are also likely on a septic system for wastewater filtration. This system works to filter all of the waste that goes down drains, including those of the toilet and shower. Each septic system has a finite capacity and can become over loaded. If a septic system becomes overloaded because of lack of maintenance, and/or from too much water entering the system, it can cause failure. Such failure can result in raw sewage pooling on your property, contaminating your lake and entering into your well water without filtration. This is especially true for shallow wells (<20 meters deep). Such contamination can result in serious health issues or even death. For more information on septic system best practices please click here.
How can I conserve water?
Changing the way we think about water and becoming more conscious of its use can have significant positive impacts on our property and ecosystems. Below are some easy ways that we can all conserve water!
1.Reduce excess water consumption inside residence
Changing your water usage habits inside your residence can have significant impacts of water conservation in some cases reducing consumption by over 50%! Some ways that you can reduce your water use include:
- Never leave water running longer than necessary (for example when washing dishes or brushing teeth)
- Make sure dishwasher and washing machine are fully loaded before running them (do not do half loads)
- Buy water efficient dishwashers and washing machines. This alone has been found to reduce water use by 35-50%
- Consider buying water efficient toilets, shower heads, and taps. Together these can reduce water use by over 10%
- Take short showers (long showers can stress your well and septic system)
- Do not flush anything other than biological waste down the toilet (the toilet should not be used as a garbage can)
- Wash fruits or vegetables in a small bowl of water rather than running the tap
- Install instant water heaters so you do not have to run you tap while waiting for hot water (much of the water in the Land Between has high mineral contents making it important to regularly descale water heating systems to keep they functioning – the process takes about 45 minutes)
2. Periodically check for leaks
If you are noticing your water pump is going off frequently when you are not using water, or have a higher than average electricity bill, then you may have a leak in the system. If a leak it detected, fix it as soon as possible to avoid long term water wastage. Having a plumber periodically check for and repair leakage has been found to reduce water consumption by 12%.
3. Avoid watering grass
The average sprinkler uses 3861L of water an hour. That is more water than the average Canadian uses in 11 days! Using well water to irrigate lawns can cause considerable stress to aquifers, lake water tables and municipal water sources. Moreover, a significant amount the of water used to irrigate lawns ends up being lost through evaporation or run-off. If you have added fertilizer or pesticide to your lawn, and then you irrigate it, runoff and leaching can lead to ground water, well water and surface water contamination. In some cases, surface water run-off can lead to lake contamination that cause ugly, stinky and toxic algal blooms. In recent years, as climate change has caused increased regional droughts and water shortages, it has become more imperative than ever to conserve water. Avoid watering the grass whenever possible. If you must water the lawn water it in the early morning or late evening (this helps to minimize evaporation loss). In addition, ensure that you do not cut your grass below 4-5 cm. This will prevent your grass from drying out and reduces the desire to water.
4. Install rain barrels
Another great way to conserve your water use is to install rain barrels! Rain barrels collect any water that is running down your gutters and saves it for later use in gardens (or on lawns). Sometimes water pouring down gutters can actually cause mild erosion or even flooding around building. By installing rain barrels you will help to reduce these negative effects while also collecting chlorine free water for you plants.
5. Reduce water use in gardens
Although we typically do not feel like watering our gardens is a waste of water, there are still many ways that we can conserve it and have beautiful flowers or veggies. As mentioned about, using rain barrel water is a great way to reduce water use! Your plants will also be thankful because they do not like treated municipal water. Another amazing way to conserve water in gardens is to plant native drought resistant species instead of foreign ones. There are many native species that are just as beautiful as non-native plants! By growing such species that are adapted to Canadian weather and the Land Between region, your garden will be more drought tolerant and will thus require less water and maintenance. If you must water, make sure that you install a nozzle on your hose to prevent wasteful applications. Worried about weeds and water retention in your garden? Apply mulch to prevent weeds from sprouting and to enhance the moisture of your soil!
6. Have a conservation with your community and visitors about the importance of water conservation
In a country as water rich as Canada, people often take water for granted. Having a conversation with your loved ones and community about the importance of water conservation and the impacts that water use can have on the environment will help encourage them to be more water conscientious.
How is climate change effecting water conservation?
As climate change continues to progress the necessity of participating in acts of water conservation will only increase. Changes in annual evaporation, rainfall and snowfall patterns threaten to alter the recharge dynamics of lakes and aquifers. This means that areas that used to have abundant ground and surface water resources will likely become strained, more prone to drought and have lower water tables than before. As a result, historical water levels could retreat with some lakes being unable to replenish as quickly as they could prior to the progression of climate change. Such effects have already been seen, as was witnessed in Ontario with the long summer drought of 2020. Although the Land Between region has many lakes and wetlands, we must still be conscious of our water consumption because the amount of water we pull from lake and ground sources is becoming increasingly difficult and slow to replenish.
- Fielding, K. S., Russell, S., Spinks, A., & Mankad, A. (2012). Determinants of household water conservation: The role of demographic, infrastructure, behavior, and psychosocial variables. Water Resources Research, 48(10).
- Katz, B. G., Eberts, S. M., & Kauffman, L. J. (2011). Using Cl/Br ratios and other indicators to assess potential impacts on groundwater quality from septic systems: a review and examples from principal aquifers in the United States. Journal of Hydrology, 397(3-4), 151-166.