The terms ‘saving water, ‘water conservation’ and ‘sustainable use of water’ are fairly general, and can be used to refer to a number of things.
In this guide, we specifically outline the different ways to sustainably use and manage fresh water, and give examples of how they can be practically implemented.
Summary – Different Ways To Sustainable Use & Manage Water Across Society
Saving and conserving water are both part of the bigger picture of sustainably managing and using fresh water i.e. making sure there are adequate available fresh water resources to meet demand now and in the future.
Sustainably managing and using water can happen on a broader social level – at the national, State/province, and city/town levels.
It can also happen on the individual level.
Sustainably managing and using water involves managing water supply resources, but also direct and indirect water withdrawals and consumption in the three main sectors of agriculture (in particular irrigation), industry (in particular power generation) and municipal (in particular households and public service).
We’ve already put together a few guides which outline sustainable management and use of water on a broader scale:
Below, we have listed some of the different individual ways that water can be sustainably used and managed:
Reducing Or Eliminating Water Leaks & Losses
Reducing Direct Water Consumption
Reducing Indirect Water Consumption
Managing Water Withdrawals
Reducing Water Waste
Reducing Water Pollution & Contamination
Treating & Purifying Inadequate Quality Water
Substituting Fresh Water For An Alternative
There’s also indirect factors to consider.
Getting the same production for a lesser amount of water, or getting more production for the same amount of water.
Using a water efficient irrigation system, or an alternative irrigation systems that works with timers, sensors, a drip system, etc. The effect is growing the same amount of crops with less water because the water is being applied more effectively
Modern water efficient household appliances such as washing machines, dishwashers, shower heads, taps, and so on, that do the same function with less water. The effect might be doing a full load of dishes with less water in the case of a dish washer
Reducing Water Leaks & Loss (& Water Waste)
Fixing water leaks and points of water loss from a system or item.
Fixing public supply water pipes that burst, and leak or lose water
Fixing leaky taps, pipes, toilet, showers, and hoses/sprinklers at the household level
Fixing a leaky irrigation system on a farm, or a leaky sprinkler used in public services to water lawns, parks, reserves, sports pitches, etc.
Reducing Total Direct Water Consumption
Using less water at the manufacture stage of a product life cycle i.e. after supplied materials have been extracted, processed and shipped to the manufacturer
Using less water at the household level for bathing, cooking, cleaning, etc. i.e. used directly by an individual
Reducing Total Indirect Water Consumption
Involves reducing the water that is used indirectly by an individual or organisation.
People can decrease the water footprint of the food they eat (water is used indirectly by people when food is grown or produced on a farm).
People can decrease the water footprint of the electricity they use by using a different energy source like natural gas or renewables over coal, or by installing energy efficient lights in their house (water is used indirectly by people when electricity is generated with different energy sources like coal, natural gas, and so on at a power plant)
Other ways may or may not include buying fewer new products (and buying secondhand or recycled more often), cutting rate of consumption, cutting down on consuming water intensive products, becoming more efficient with energy and electricity use, not wasting as much food, eating less meat, businesses and governments can track and monitor water better, and more efficient agricultural irrigation systems.
Managing Or Restricting Water Withdrawals
Water withdrawal is different to water consumption.
Withdrawals involve the total amount of water withdrawn from a water source (that may even be returned to that source), whereas water consumption involves the % of water that is permanently removed or lost from it’s source.
Managing water withdrawals involves restricting or controlling the amount of water withdrawn from different water sources, and is essentially a way of managing demand on those water sources.
We saw this when Cape Town imposed water restrictions during it’s drought and water shortage
It can be done with water restriction schemes, water policies, regulations and so on. Managing withdrawals is especially done if water supplies are low, or renewal rates are low (in dams, lakes, rivers, etc).
Reducing Water Waste
Water waste can be a broad term.
Involves not purposely wasting water (directly or indirectly) when it could otherwise be used for something else.
Not wasting or throwing out the food we buy (food often has a water footprint from irrigated water used to produce it – when we waste food, we indirectly waste the water used to produce it, such as irrigation)
Buying a car second hand, or waiting longer to buy a new car where possible (as cars use water to manufacture)
Not running a dishwasher or washing machine until they have a full load (and not a half or partial load)
Substituting, or using alternate materials, products and services that have a smaller water footprint e.g. in packaging, suppliers and manufacturers might use materials that consume less water to make
Water Recycling and Re-use
Involve the use of water, and then re-use of water (with, or without treatment beforehand) – it’s circular process.
Recycling water allows the same water to be used instead of new water, which reduced to total amount of new water withdrawn and consumed over time.
Read more about the pros and cons of water recycling in this guide
Reducing Water Pollution and Contamination
When water is polluted or contaminated via agriculture, industry etc. – this reduces the total amount of adequate quality water available to be withdrawn or consumed again.
So, reducing water pollution and contamination increases or keeps the same amount of available fresh water supplies to use instead of reducing them.
Treating & Purifying Water
Water needs to be of adequate quality to drink or use.
Treating and purifying water allows already contaminated or polluted water to potentially be used if it passes quality tests and regulations.
Generating Fresh Water, Harvesting Fresh Water, & Increasing Capacity
Fresh water can be newly generated or harvested, or existing fresh water capacity can be increased.
This allows the total volume of available fresh water to increase and gives more margin for error from water risk events.
Building an additional dam (to increase supply capacity)
Modifying a water catchment area so water filters more effectively into lakes, rivers, and percolates into ground water
Ground water replenishment schemes
Substituting Fresh Water For An Alternative
Where fresh water is currently used for one thing, an alternative might be able to be used.
Dry CO2 cleaning (vs the alternative of wet water cleaning)
Consider the merit of using closed loop cooling towers and cooling systems, and salt water, at thermal power plants. Read more potential solutions in this guide
Indirect Factors To Consider
Indirect or external factors to consider when trying to sustainably manage water across society might be:
Population sizes and growth
Rate of consumption – more demand and consumption generally means more water use (especially of water intensive resources like beef and fossil fuels like coal)
Economic growth – more growth generally means more water consumption
A changing climate
Overall water management strategies and planning for cities as a whole
Adding some relevancy to the above factors, watercalculator.org indicates that ‘By the year 2030, experts predict that global demand for water will outstrip supply by 40 percent.’
To address this, either new water supplies need to be generated, or the consumption rate (by people, businesses, industries, etc), has to be reduced.
Factors like population size, rate of consumption, and consumption of water intensive resources, all impact consumption rate of water.