“Please only flush the toilets when you need to,” Linda, our host at the Brú Radharc na Mara Hostel tells us kindly. Her request is met with a few nervous glances. We file into the Hostel’s quaint foyer and I observe that the walls are covered with courtesy notices about water conservation. Outside the coast is relatively calm and salt water slowly laps at the weathered limestone. It is remote at Inis Oirr and fresh water is scarce—a surprising reality for some who wonder why, with ocean on all sides of us, that we must be so cautious. I approach one of the notices on the hostel billboard that reads, “Limit shower use.” Oh no. With all the hair I have, short showers are not my forte.
I have noticed that water conservation in Ireland is much more prevalent on both the mainland and Aran Islands than in the United States, forcing me to confront my privilege as someone who has long taken unlimited water usage as a given.
After greeting us, Linda explained that water is shipped to Inis Oirr on boats from Galway three times a day—a process that is very costly and not environmentally sustainable. As a result, proposals to develop water mains through the Aran Islands have been fervently debated throughout the past year. However, since water is currently shipped to Inis Oirr, islanders are left to the mercy of the weather to determine their water usage. “Last year,” Linda tells us, “we had a water curfew between 19:00 pm and 7:00 am due to a very dry summer. It was quite an adjustment for the students here before you.” More nervous glances pass around the room. I wonder what it would be like to live as a resident on the island and figure that a careful approach to water would become a second nature.
I tried to adopt this second nature for myself when I took a shower this morning. Upon turning the faucet, a jet of frigid water shot out. When the water did not increase in temperature after a minute, I got rather uneasy, then, deciding to suck-it-up and deal with it, I plunged into the icy cold. And I got used to it. As I showered, I was careful not to keep the water running while I was shampooing and conditioning my hair. The process was somewhat difficult, but it made a profound amount of sense in terms of conservation. Linda later told me that the long duration of cold water was due to newly installed faucets that limit hot water consumption.
While it may seem rather facile, showering here has made me appreciate and question my water usage back home. We take much for granted, and perhaps dangerously assume that hot showers are a universal aspect of the Westernized world. But this is not the case. Water is not an infinite resource and should not be treated as such. Hygiene is essential, yet respecting the earth is just as important.