Midcoast Maine – November 2013
It’s Okay to Go Gray: Conserving Water, One Home at a Time
In my current work with Habitat for Humanity International, I was dispatched to a refugee camp in Maai Mahiu, Kenya, to cover the completion of Habitat’s 500,000th home. The houses are small – 300 square feet – built of stone concrete floors and metal roofs.
Cooking is done in the courtyard outside, and the toilet facilities consist of a stone latrine. Owning one of these homes is a huge advance from living in a refugee tent.
But there is no water. Women and girls carry it from cisterns a quarter of a mile away, or down from the mountains when the cisterns are empty. This represents a major investment in time and labor, and there’s never a guarantee the water you carry won’t make you sick. If there is one luxury that we in the United States take for granted, it’s clean, potable water. Even here in the arid Southwest it’s delivered straight to your door, no questions asked.
In New Mexico, most of our water comes from the Colorado River and the Rio Grande through the San Juan Chama Project. And much of that imported water is “wasted” in the sense that it is underutilized. Smart homeowners who install low-flow showers, faucets, and toilets are helping to dramatically reduce domestic water use. (Simply switching from a regular toilet to a low-flow toilet saves 9,000 gallons of water a year!) But still much of the water we use at home could be better utilized. Here’s what I mean: