from toilets to the bigger picture: water

I’m happy to say that my toilet post spurred a lot of interest. Even Guy Kawasaki himself wrote back to my comment on his blog and then twittered me (I got very excited by this…. but unfortunately my happiness couldn’t really be shared with all – “Guy who? Twitter what?”)

Anyways, I’m adding to the post. Jay, my most ardent commenter;), brought up the point that the two flush toilet idea wouldn’t work in Canada, based on the fact that water just isn’t that expensive and so the return on investment for switching just isn’t there.

But is this really a return on investment issue? I think it’s a regulatory issue.

He’s right. Water just isn’t that expensive in Canada – damn right… we have the CHEAPEST water in the world!!  (not something to be proud of…)  – really $0.40/m3 vs. $1.91/m3 in Germany – 5 X cheaper!

So perhaps that’s the reason why we’re the second largest consumers (right after the US)

Just because Canada was blessed with most of the largest sources of fresh water in the world doesn’t mean that we should be wasting and polluting it down the drain. Droughts around the world are making Canada look like a haven. And of course the US (with their own droughts) is of course (already) knocking on our door for our blue gold supplies. (If you think this isn’t happening soon think again… Atlanta, Georgia didn’t even know if they could cover 3 months worth – stating a water emergency in the fall. Even in Canada, there’s talk about how blue is becoming the new green…

So, without the market incentives it should be of no surprise that most people just aren’t saving – hence the need for changes in the legislation to make these incentives work.

(of course subsidies for water efficient appliances and taxes for water wasting help too- and this is often being done…)

What about greywater systems?

Not to tackle Jay on this, but he said that it was a ‘non-starter’ in most of Canada.

“You have to shunt water from grey water sources to greywater storage, which costs money to buy and install, as well as taking up floor space (which also costs money). If the maintenance costs of a greywater system are too high, then the cost and headache is hard to justify in the presence of cheap fresh water.”

But looking at this from the glass half full; it’s not a non starter…it just hasn’t fully started yet.

We don’t have the mindset for it but we’re soon moving in that direction.

  • Green building practices (LEED) pushes for it
  • Our old pipes are being replaced – i.e. OPPORTUNITIES for change
  • There have been best practices – it’s been used all over the world

Not saying that everyone should run out and install greywater systems, but over time we should be moving in this direction. And for the gung ho who want to get started on this, here’s some info .

And as for space? C’mon… we’re in Canada where space is everywhere! Our houses are big, our cars are big, heck, WE’RE big! When water costs go up, I don’t think space will be a major concern.

Anyways, in the mean time maybe I should start campaigning… “RAISE MY WATER BILL!” – will others follow suit?  Haha.. probably not… perhaps I’m too much of an idealist;)

On a completely different note… I tried mämmi today. It’s a traditional Finnish Easter porridge. Looks terrible (would go well with my previous post…) but actually, not too bad…


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2 thoughts on “from toilets to the bigger picture: water

  1. Jay Godse says:

    Jane…it is about ROI. It’s always about the money, or some other perceived benefit. That is why I always ask you to spin your propsals to show the positive ROI.

    Your case for water doesn’t show it, except perhaps for Gatineau Park’s toilets. Over there, they probably have high infrastructure costs per toilet, so it is in their interests to reduce those by reducing the amount of water per toilet or per flush. There is also marketing perception that is useful with the motivations of the people that go to hike, ski, swim, and hang out over there.

    Even California’s emission regulations are about ROI. The upswing in air quality is perceived to be a good investment.

    Green buildings are popular these days because energy costs have skyrocketed, and green building technologies have fallen in price. The combination makes green building construction for new buildings viable. It is still not viable to retrofit most homes with green features though.

    Legislation that does not have a positive perceived ROI for the average person that coughs up the cash to support this legislation will fail in the long term.

  2. janeporter says:

    Return on investment is just about profit in dollar values and yes, perhaps this is needed for the individual buying a new toilet – mind you not everyone is so rational with purchases. However, all this is still dependent on the cost of water. So, when I say that it’s a regulatory issue – I mean the government needs to step in and understand that water is a precious resource. If the government took every decision strictly as an investment issue (as in dollar per dollar without looking at the social and/or environmental aspects associated with it) then it wouldn’t be government and it wouldn’t be looking after the public good.

    That being said, there are still plenty of other economic evaluation methods that take into account the externalities. Even the good ol’ cost-benefit analysis can account for social/environmental issues. Total life cycle costing (TLCC) and the balanced scorecard are just some other ones that can be done in monetary terms but just look at the big picture.

    Looking at the dollar-ROI for changing legislation is relevant but only for the short term – and government should be looking further down the road. Even in the short term, there could be a return considering the water treatment costs. An abundance of water through overuse damages the system. (Especially now when Ottawa has so much snow… the drainage combined with excessive use will definitely put pressure on the system) Now that the pipes are 50 years old and in need of replacement, efficiencies are (or at least should be considered) for the system as a whole. Not to mention, even if they don’t need to be replaced soon, countless reports have stated that conservation is cheaper than building new infrastructure.

    In the long term, ROI becomes an even more significant factor for water. Just like regular economics, as the supply decreases and the demand increases, the price will rise. So when water prices rise and everyone wants a take in our resources, we, as Canadians aren’t wasting the precious resource that we may (hopefully not) have to sell (at higher prices too). At the end of the day, water is the source of life – we need it to survive and no matter how much we have of it now, we can’t afford to waste it. Teaching people conservation can really just be thought of as a risk management issue.

    In terms of the average person not accepting this legislation if they don’t see a benefit… well the benefits need to be made clear. Legislation like this will also be made easier when the government provides tax rebates on energy/water efficient appliances – same way that they’re doing now with a lot of these. It’s not an impossible task. Look at the switch to EE bulbs instead of incandescent. It took some marketing to get people to understand, but it’s happening (of course with some ppl hating it.. but that’ll always be the case).

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