Will I ever learn to use less water?
Saving Water: The Game!
Words— Kathryn Jezer-Morton
Most mornings, right after I put my Bialetti espresso maker on the stove, I head out to my front yard and turn on a very loud pump that moves water from a cistern buried underground up to a big beige plastic tank on the roof of my house. Once I’ve stirred the milk into my espresso, about 10 minutes have passed and the tank should be just about full. I go back outside and switch off the pump.
I’ve been living in Mexico for two months, and as a Canadian, I’m used to having access to a seemingly unlimited supply of free clean water. Since childhood I’ve been taught not to “waste” water -- but what exactly constitutes waste, when waste appears to have no consequences? In Canada, we turn the tap on all the way, so water comes out in a thick, fast stream. We take 20-minute showers. We prefer not to follow the “if it’s yellow let it mellow” rule, generally speaking. But are we wasting water? Who’s to say, really?
When we moved into the little house we’re renting, our landlord Jorge showed us how to pump water from the cistern. I peered up at the tank on the roof -- virtually every house in small-town Mexico has one. It’s a big tank -- I figured it wouldn’t need to be refilled more than once a week or so.
The author's big beige water tank that does not leak.
But two days later, the tap ran dry. Just like I’d been shown, I filled the tank. And one day later -- empty again. My husband and I were sure something was wrong. We texted Jorge, “The water tank is leaking!” How could we be running dry so often?
Neither of us could believe we were using an entire tank’s worth of water every day. A leak was the only possible explanation! Jorge came over -- no leak to be found. He looked at us with a mixture of amusement and pity. “It’s normal to have to fill the tank every day or two,” he said. “That’s how much water you use.”
Now I’m used to starting most days by turning on the pump, but we also try to make the tank last longer. There’s nothing like seeing exactly how much water you use daily to make you understand the concept of waste. The cistern in our yard is fed only sporadically by the municipal water supply -- “between 10 a.m. and noon, sometimes one, sometimes two days a week,” we were told by a neighbour -- and recently the cistern got scarily low. I’ve been taking note of the subtle but cumulatively significant ways we can reduce our water use. We take very short showers -- the shower is no longer a place to chill out. We never turn the tap to full blast when doing the dishes. We wash our clothes less, and when we do, it’s usually by hand, in the washbasin in our backyard.
The most useful way to think of it is a game. I’m always trying to beat our record for how long we go between tank fill-ups. We gamify everything these days: the number of steps we take a day, the number of minutes we spend on the most addictive apps on our phones, even budgeting. I’ve started thinking of the big beige tank on my roof as an analog conservation game. I can’t lie: It’s kind of working.
I hope that by the time I return home to Canada in five months, these habits will be knit deeply into my brain. But unfortunately I know myself, and human nature, too well to have much hope. We become accustomed to what’s available and adjust our consumption accordingly. At the very least I’ll have the visual to return to: a huge beige tank on my roof that goes from full to empty every single day.