Saturday, January 24, 2009

Water on the brain

Detail from a mural at Bridgepoint Health,
on the edge of the Don River, Canada's most polluted river.
Photo by Craig Saunders

I've been thinking about water lately. Every time I shower, or pull the plug on my son's bath, I think about all the water going down the drain. In a week, hundreds of gallons of fairly clean greywater flows from my house into the city's wastewater system. It doesn't need to.

My city has more than 9,000 kilometres of sewers connecting the homes of a few million people. The wastewater generally flows downhill to the lake, but sometimes must be pumped uphill at one of 45 pumping stations. The more we flush, the more electricity gets used to pump that waste. Then there's a 10.5-hour treatment process at the end.

That process takes a lot of energy. more than 190 million kilowatthours. Water systems are one of the biggest parts of any city's energy bill, and because of that, one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. There's a lot a city can do, from replacing leaky old pipes to installing biogas systems to use some of the energy stored in all that poop-filled water. Homeowners can fix leaky faucets, take showers instead of baths, and really, do you need to take a full shower every day? Wouldn't a sponge bath in the sink (using just a few litres of water) suffice some days?

Every time I pull the plug on the bathtub, I think about all that water going down the drain. It's good water, with quite a few nutrients in it thanks to the soap. Then I think about my garden, a few hundred square feet of vegetables (well, it will be once the snow melts). Why not use the greywater on the garden?

I'm happy to take buckets out to the garden. I used to do this in London. But my garden paths are dirty, and I'd have to walk back and forth across the carpet in my bedroom countless times. The obvious solution is some sort of a water barrel on the back porch. Then I could carry buckets to fill it, then go outside and do the watering without tracking dirt throughout the house.

But where to get a suitable barrel? I was wondering about this, and today it came to me. The city just delivered new garbage bins. We have to use these official bins if we want our rubbish collected. That means the big, old plastic bin we had been using is just sitting at the side of the house. If the upstairs neighbours don't object, I'll put it on the back deck and use it for greywater. Now I just need to figure out some sort of spigot system for the bottom.

Then I'll have a great greywatering system for my garden. My veg will love it, it will reduce the amount of relatively clean water the city will have to treat, and it will reduce the amount of water they need to pump into the system, since I'll be using less municipal water for the garden. A win-win-win situation.

Now I just have to wait until the snow melts.


Anonymous said...

I know that in most of the municipalities in York region, they give away rain barrels in spring (you have to go get it, but as long as you live in the municipality, you're welcome to it), with the idea of getting people to collect rainwater for watering lawns & gardens instead of city water. Does the city of Toronto not have a similar program?

I would think that a rain barrel would work wonderfully for holding household grey water.

Anonymous said...

Great idea for a blog, Craig. Just came across it in my feeds. I'm also a renter in Toronto and looking for ways to green my apartment. In case you're interested to know, I've posted a link to this entry on our Twitter (@CanadianWater). Looking forward to reading more in the future!

Craig Saunders said...

carynb: Toronto did, as I understand it, install some as part of its Downspout Disconnection Program, but that ended in 2007. The downspout on the back of our building isn't accessible from the yard. Hence my interest in using greywater.

Kerry: Thanks for visiting and sharing.