While one can’t imagine anyone having missed out on all the hullaballoo around the crisis in Energy and all of the socio-political and socio-economic issues that are swirling around it, not as many people are as acutely attuned to a perhaps more critical crisis…water.

Specifically, I’m talking about the availability of fresh water.  People are mostly made of water and most of our planet’s surface is covered with water, but potable water to drink and wash with is another story.

“Whiskey is for drinkin’, water is for fightin’ over” — Mark Twain

As that quote attests, this is nothing new.  But perhaps the level of the crisis is.

Northern and Southern California have been fighting over water.

The Colorado River passes through 6 states and Mexico…and it’s not getting deeper.

One of the bigger crises today lies in China – right in their capital city of Beijing.  Having grown to a population of 17M during a 10-year drought, they have exhausted all of their near-surface water and are drawing from miles-deep wells and from rivers and reservoirs in neighboring provinces, driving those regions to the brink.

Beijing's nearby Chao river is barely a rivulet now

Going Local and Taking Action

A great article appeared in the last few days on SmartPlanet talking about the small town of Cloudcroft, NM.  With little in the way of natural water sources, the town had been trucking in 20,000 gallons of water every day.  This was quickly becoming non-viable, so the town got innovative and acquired a state-of-the-art water reclamation system that lets them reuse 100% of their waste water.


This is on one end of the spectrum in aggressively confronting this problem, but if all of our major cities could move incrementally in that direction, we could head this crisis off at the pass (um, do I have to say “partner”?).

eco+historical’s role

For our two projects, we’re taking our water conservation to a new level for urban architecture.

Sure, we’re pursuing the standard water-efficiency measures like using:

  • Low-flow faucets (just 1.5 gallons/min vs. older faucets at 2.5 or even 4 gpm)
  • WaterSense-rated toilets (1.28 gallons/flush)
  • Motion-sensor water recirculation so hot water is hot when you turn on the faucet
  • EnergyStar dishwashers and washing machines (use 30-75% less water)
  • Irrigating landscaping w/all drip irrigation – no wasted spray

But that’s just dialing back our consumption.

What about “recycling” our water?  Or making use of all that water that falls as rain and otherwise just floods the streets, saturates the ground, or runs off to the sewers?

Grey Water Recycling

In addition to being stingy with the water we use, we’ll reuse the water that we do!

We’ll recapture water running down the drain from our bathroom sinks and laundry and reuse it to flush our toilets or water our landscaping.  This is called Grey Water since it mostly has schmutz in it that you can filter out (unlike Black Water – the water that flushes through the toilet and which must be treated chemically before it can re-enter the ecosystem).

By re-using this water that would otherwise go down the drain, we’ll save thousands of gallons a year that would otherwise be drawn from the city’s water supply (and thus from precious aquifers and reservoirs).  Here’s a great illustration of a system from Australia…

Rainwater Catchement

Similarly, we can capture the rain that we would otherwise dump from our gutters onto the ground and put it in tanks for reuse for the same purposes that put the processed greywater.  Between these two sources, a drought-tolerant garden could potentially require little if any water from the city’s water supply and one of our principal uses of fresh water – toilet flushing – can likewise be taken care of by water that would otherwise have been dumped. Check out the nice illustration from This Old House.

We’re certainly not the first to implement these kinds of systems, but they’re not terribly common in urban settings (aside from some guerilla implementations as add-ons to existing homes with non-integrated plumbing) and we plan to make these a standard part of the way eco+historical commits itself to weaning itself off our global “drinking problem”.