Sunday, 27 September 2015

Conserving water is bad for the environment

Most of us like to believe that we are interested in the environment. We are concerned about global warming, we worry about the destruction of the rain forests, we decry the accumulation of plastic waste in the sea, we wouldn’t dream of dropping litter on the street or dumping an old television in a secluded rural area, we faithfully segregate our recyclables, we would drive an electric vehicle if we could afford it, we argue in favour of wind, wave and solar power. Unfortunately, some of us are equally passionate about the need for water conservation in the mistaken belief that that is also an environmental issue.

Of course we don’t like to see plastic bottles on our beaches, litter on our streets, or fly-tipping in the countryside but for the most part we rely on the experts to tell us what behaviour is environmentally sound and what is damaging. We couldn’t stand up in a lecture hall and explain the cause and effect of global warming; we can’t give personal assurances that our segregated recyclables won’t end up in a dump in China; and we can’t provide a cost benefit analysis of renewable power sources. We believe in what we are doing because authoritative sources say so. Sometimes, these sources are no more knowledgeable than ourselves. Some are lazy journalists who fail to ask the right questions, some are politicians whose ambitions shape their views, and some are environmental zealots who focus on a single issue without looking at the bigger picture.

Conserving water in Ireland does little or nothing positive for the environment. At best it reduces the amount of chemicals used to purify water and will contribute to an indiscernible reduction in the amount of fuel used to pump water to storage tanks and reservoirs.

Conserving water does not mean that we are leaving more of it to future generations. Whatever we do with it, used water will eventually come back as rain, replenishing our lakes and rivers and occasionally causing floods.

By trying to conserve water we are committing the sins the environmentalists normally urge us to avoid.
  • Irish Water has destroyed thousands of trees to print a series of booklets and leaflets that have been delivered to every home in the country.
  • Irish Water has consumed vast quantities of non-renewable minerals in the manufacture of water meters and fittings that serve no useful purpose.
  • Irish Water will continue to waste non-renewable oil reserves on vehicles which will drive past every water meter in the country on a quarterly basis.
  • Gullible householders will purchase plastic water butts and piping to store rainwater for their gardens without realising that the cost of the butt is greater than the amount they can ever expect to save in reduced water charges. The plastic is generally made from non-renewable petrochemicals and will ultimately end up in landfill or polluting the oceans.
  • At Irish Water’s urgings, bathroom fittings, made from non-renewable minerals, will be replaced in order to deliver a marginal reduction in water throughput.

For the thinking environmentalist, water conservation brings no benefits in Ireland. On the other hand it can be argued that measures taken to conserve water are environmentally unsound. Admittedly the environmental damage caused is minimal, in the grand scheme of things, but it adds to the argument against the use of water meters and against any significant investment in conservation measures. Investing in the repair of leaking pipes is probably the one exception.

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