Water Conservation – Practices and Measures

Introduction

Water is one of the most essential and basic need of living beings. It is not only crucial for the survival of living organisms on the biosphere but also to carry out other natural processes, for the economy of the country and for the upcoming generations. Although three fourth of the earth’s surface is under the oceans and 70% part of the world is covered with water, we still face water shortage. This is due to the fact that even though majority of the earth’s surface is covered by water, 97% of it is found in oceans, 2% is found in the form of ice in poles, glaciers etc. and remaining 1% is available to us in the form of fresh water which is suitable for the living organisms and other purposes such as irrigation, industries etc. (Meena, 2016). In the recent years, water table is facing serious threat due to rapid increase in population, urban development, over usage of resources, climate change, global warming, rising number of natural calamities, slow replenishment of natural water sources and most importantly, negligence of people to use water in a proper and judicious way. Water resource development and management crisis occurs firstly because most of the water is not available for use and secondly its spatial distribution is highly uneven. Therefore, water has been recognized as an important source and considerable importance is being laid on its economic use and better management.

Water Conservation

According to UN World Water Development Report 2019, global water consumption has been increasing by about 1% per year since 1980s, driven by a combination of population growth, socio-economic development and changing consumption patterns. As per the stats given in the report, global water demand is expected to continue increasing at a similar rate until 2050, accounting for an increase of 20 to 30% above the current level of use, mainly due to rising demand in the industrial and domestic sectors. Over 2 billion people experience high water stress and about 4 billion people experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year. Following the existing trends, stress levels will continue to increase as demand for water grows and the effects of climate change intensify. The need for water conservation has thus become crucial. Since water is the most important resource for all development activities on which our present and future depends, it must be carefully conserved and optimally used.

This series of articles looks into the best practices and technological innovations in water conservation in urban areas of low and middle income countries. It has been broadly divided into sections: First section of the paper explores the best practices and technological innovations in water conservation in urban areas of low and middle income countries (LMIC) while the second section of the paper examines the current mandates, institutional arrangements, roles and responsibilities (of ULBs, people’s representatives, citizens, citizens’ collectives, facilities/ institutes/residential communities/ poor and marginalized sections of the society etc.) and regulation/ compliance towards water saving, water conservation, and waste water reuse.

Water Conservation

The concept of water conservation goes back many decades. However, the term has still not got a single universally accepted definition. There are many different and contradictory definitions built from various varying thoughts.

Water conservation entails a complex interconnected system that includes a variety of aspects ranging from consumer education to advanced technological equipment. Water conservation includes: Programs and techniques designed to curb domestic, agricultural and industrial water use, wastewater reduction, treatment and reuse; and supply-demand and replenishment – depletion relationships, energy consumption and environmental concerns. All aspects must be considered in relation to economic, social, religious, legal and aesthetic ties. (Ali Khan, 1986 & Abdul Razzak et al, 1990 as cited in Kader et al, 2010)

Baumann et al. (1980) defined water conservation using a benefit-cost approach: “the socially beneficial reduction of water use or water loss” (Gleick et al., 2003:23). Here, the focus is on comprehensive water demand management for the social well-being and not completely curtailing the resource use.

Gleick et al. (2003) defined the term ‘Water Conservation’ as reducing water use by improving the efficiency of various uses of water, without decreasing services. The emphasize lies on the efficient use of resource which should not lead to unnecessary cutbacks causing deprivation.

A water conservation measure can be an action, behavioral change, device, technology, or improved design or process implemented to reduce water loss, water, or use. Water efficiency is a tool of water conservation that results in more efficient water use and thus reduces water demand. The value and cost-effectiveness of a water efficiency measure must be evaluated in relation to its effects on the use and cost of other natural resources (e.g. energy or chemicals) (Anwar, 2010 cited from Vickers, 2001)

Conservation sometimes seem to mean deprivation to the people which implies simply cutting back the use of goods and services produced by using that resource (water, in this case). The terms water conservation and water saving are often used interchangeably as these are generally associated with the water resource management. Even though both the terms are interrelated and complimentary with each other in practice, these terms should not be used synonymously. The term water conservation refers to every user practice, managerial measure or policy that aims to conserve or preserve the water resources. Whereas, the term water saving refers to controlling or limiting the water demand and use for any specific purpose, including the avoidance of water wastes and the misuse of water. (Santos Pereira L. et al, 2009)

Also read: What is Water Conservation?

Importance of Water Conservation

While the world’s population tripled in the 20th century, the use of renewable or fresh water has grown six fold as per the data given by World Water Council. This has led to a situation where more than one out of six people lack access to safe drinking water (Estimation for 2002, by the WHO/UNICEF JMP, 2004 as cited by World Water Council). According to the second UN World Water Development Report, if present levels of consumption continue, two-thirds of the global population will live in water stress areas by 2025. Within the next fifty years, the world population will increase by another 40 to 50%. Increasing population growth and water demand coupled with industrialization, urbanization and high living standards have boosted the demand while, natural calamities such as droughts, overuse and pollution have led to a decrease in supplies. High contestation can be witnessed between domestic use, irrigation and industries. Therefore, in order to make up for the water shortfall, water conservation practices are highly required.

Considerations in Water Conservation Practices

Water conservation measures require effective procedure for evaluation before its commencement and after its implementation. For water conservation practices, technological innovations specifically require assessment of various water demand management measures. However, it is not always done in all the cases especially when it is community based. Four considerable issues in water conservation that should be carefully looked into are –

  • Technical Issues
  • Economic Issues
  • Financial Issues
  • Political Issues

The above four issues can be addressed through the following measures/ considerations. These considerations are based on the thesis research done by Anwar, 2010.

1. Technical Consideration

Water conservation practices which involve technology require a technical feasibility check to get an estimate of actual reduction in water demand or discharge. This consideration helps to evaluate if the proposed measure or modification is working and will it lead to reduction in water usage. It involves a check on engineering efficiency, for instance, examination of the quantity of water pumped into system and delivered to consumer or the end users. However, economic and environmental factors are also important to be examined other than the technical evaluation and are sometimes prioritized higher than the technical factor. Consumer acceptance and political factors also form a part of technical analysis.

2. Economic Consideration

Economic issues are highly considerable as the water development costs are high and the competition for available capital is also rising. Concept of engineering efficiency is limited by its inability to address the value of any specific use of water and not the alternative used of same water. Hence, emphasis on engineering efficiency may lead to unproductive expenditure if value of that particular use is less than that of some other use of water.

3. Financial Consideration

Cash flows are taken into account for financial consideration. The rate of return should be greater than or equal to the opportunity cost of capital as reflected by the interest rates. Financial appraisal should have a positive net present value which implies that the present value of all future cash flows should be positive and the rate of return should be greater than the cost of capital.

4. Social/Political Consideration

It aims to build a balance between various sections in the society. It discourages resource allocation to the most powerful group and prevents high water pricing in water demand context. However, political will plays an important role in setting water rates. Another important issue is that there is no single criterion to assess the degree to which a given action is equitable. Flat rates appear to epitomize equity which implies that each residential customer for instance pays same amount of water. The fact that some people consume more resources than others and place heavier burdens on the system should not be denied. Industrial users, priced at the same rate and subsidized even further pose higher challenges on the water system. These needs of few requires system to be oversized and expensive. Thus, the equitable system actually becomes inequitable. Hence, it is important that the steps taken for water conservation are assessed amongst multiple criterion.

Water Conservation Measures

Water conservation practices can either be community led (where technology plays a minimal role) or largely technological innovation based. These practices can be initiated at the system users end or the demand side which involves the general public, farmers or industries or at the system operators end, also known as supply side, by the municipalities, state and national government. Initiatives for water conservation taken at system operators’ end however, require large scale cooperation from the system users for the practice to be successful.  For instance, technical fixes and regulatory controls by the authorities is important to curb water consumption, but, in order to reach high levels of water conservation, large scale cooperation is required from the people. Water conservation measures, thus, can be classified as:

1. Community based measures

These are the methods in which community plays a primary role in the water conservation practice. Although, other methods also require large scale cooperation of people to get the desired results. Community based water conservation practices are the practices for the conservation of water resources by, of and for the people. According to development discourses and schools of thought, a strengthened civil society facilitates a better governed, inclusive and just society because such practices empower ordinary people to transform their own lives.

2. Technical measures

Technical Methods involves use of technological innovations for water conservation. Technological innovations can help in water supply problems to a large extent.

a. Structural measures – This involves usage of physical devices such as water saving devices and metering that can reduce water demand. Water saving devices can be classified into two categories: (1) retrofit devices and (2) devices originally installed in new housing. About 75 percent of in-house water use occurs in bathroom (Flack et al, 1987: 47). So, the method involves the design of retrofit devices and low flow plumbing fixtures for showers, faucets and toilets. Metering of customers’ water use can help in reducing demand by imposing prices that discourage excessive water use. It has been proven that metering reduces the demand for water, particularly water used outside (Hanke, 1969 & Flechas, 1980 as cited in Flack et al, 1987)

b. Water supply alternativesRecycled or reused water has become a more practicable alternative to alleviate water supply problems in the recent years. These are water supply alternatives.

3. Other Methods

Besides community and technology based water conservation methods, there are various other methods which can be used to serve the purpose. These can be regulatory or based on some policy and provisions or a revised set up under an already existing authority for managing water resources.

a. Economic MeasuresMetering combined with pricing strategies can significantly reduce the demand for water resulting in water conservation. Inclining rates provide more incentive to conserve water because the marginal cost of water increases with increased usage.

b. Operational MeasuresOperational methods implies the restrictions imposed for water use to certain days and to certain hours during those days or every day. Time restrictions can help in reducing peak demands.

Reference

  • Anwar, S. (2010) Potentials for water conservation in Dhaka city, BUET, Dhaka
  • Flack, J.E. & Greenberg, J. (1987) Public Attitudes Toward Water Conservation, American Water Works Association, Vol. 79(3), pp. 46-51
  • Gleick, P.H. et al. (2003) Waste Not, Want Not: The Potential for Urban Water Conservation in California, Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security, Oakland, CA
  • Santos Pereira L., Cordery I., lacovides I. (2009) Water Conservation and Savings: Concepts and Performance. In: Coping withanwar Water Scarcity. Springer, Dordrecht

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