“Don’t Waste the Water!”

“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.

Transporting the Fresh(Water) Goods

Ireland is a country that is surrounded by water, also known as an island but there are parts of the Country that still don’t have a steady supply of water even though this country is known for their rain. In Inis Oírr, the smallest of the Aran Islands of the coast of Western Ireland, we were made aware of the fact they are completed reliant on the mainland to get fresh water. This island has one freshwater lake on it called Loch Mör. The people on this island have one major problem with Loch Mör  and that is because it is a dead lake. This means the water is stagnant, and has no streams or fresh water spring running into the lake. This is problematic as the water begins to smell because it is stagnant and also acidic. These are all factors on why the loch can’t be used as a viable source of drinking water for natives. This lead to people having to be reliant on other sources of fresh water. Before the more recent practice of shipping their freshwater in from Galway, the Islanders on this Island were completely reliant on the rainwater which one local described as, “dirty water” which we were unsure if he meant polluted or that the water had a salty taste to it. Everyday there is a water boat that makes two trips from Galway to the port here on the island where they then proceed to pump the fresh water from the mainland into storage containers located near the center of the island. When we were talking to a local resident named Eoghan (Owen) we learned that this island did not get electricity on the until the year 2000 when they laid a optic cable across the bay.. This is something he was happy about but he then mentioned the Irish government didn’t think about making that a joint project to also provide water to the island. This means that the Island will not get water if the boat is unable to make it one day which means that they are completely reliant on the mainland to survive on this island. While staying on the island we were told to conserve water the most we could and to only flush when necessary. This is something that I was not used, because in the United States my home has a well and my parents never told me not to flush the toilet or to make sure you rinse your dishes in the sink instead of keeping the water running the whole time. This was eye opening to me because I didn’t realize that even in a developed country that is known for its rain could still have the same water problems of third world countries

Kyle’s Gallery

H2-Oh No!

Stepping into the broom closet that was to be our home for the next two days at Kilronan, a town on Inis Mor, a island on the Aran Isles, we were not the happiest of campers. Imagine four guys packed into a small room, and then imagine the horror of the water shutting off unexpectedly for the rest of the night, and you have our experience. You may be thinking “But wait, no water on a island? How does that work?” You see the problem is that even though the island may be surrounded by water, none of it is acceptable for human use, and it is very hard to bring enough clean water to support an entire chain of islands to the mainland, we were told that there would be no water from 8:30 at night until 8:30 the next morning, something that we could never imagine dealing with back home! After the shock and confusion went away we all realized that cutting back on our water usage wasn’t hard, it may have been different from the norm for us, but it wasn’t impossible to do. The total amount of water that is usable by humans is about 3% of the entire water on this planet, so why do we think that we have an unlimited amount? I myself have been guilty of showers that last way longer than needed, but I never realized that my actions have consequences. Although the water shut off was only during the night time, it is still a sobering wake up call to what can happen if we aren’t careful with our resources, our planet is not a endless supply for us to take from, we must respect it and care for it, or we will not be able to care for ourselves.

Twelve Tough Hours

Imagine getting ready to take a hot steamy shower after a long day of touring Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands in Galway Bay. As I stepped into the shower I turned the nozzle up, turned the temperature gauge to the left and I expected the water to start flowing out, but the water did not turn on. I was confused, why didn’t it work? I walked into the other bedrooms and asked if their water was working. I watched as Emily slowly turned on the faucet and shower nozzle, but water did not pour out. I walked down the windy narrow steps of the hostel to the receptionist and no one was there. After a conversation with a Hostel employee the next morning, he informed me that earlier in May the Aran Islands inflicted night time restrictions on the public supply of water, due to a very dry spring season and historically low water levels. Locals on the island asked homes, businesses and visitors on the island to conserve water in every possible way, such as using only a little water to wash dishes and clothes, only flushing the toilet when needed and taking shorter showers. Originally the water supply was supposed to shut off at 11pm however the island decided to cut off the water supply at 8:30 pm due to the fact that the current restrictions were not sufficient enough. 8:30 pm to 8:30 am, a tough twelve hours that the water supply was shut off. I overheard two older men talking outside a local grocery store and I found out that it had not rained significantly in over two months, therefore the water tanks started to dry up. After eating dinner in Inis Oirr I found out that throughout the afternoon restaurant employees collect water from the faucet and put it aside for the evening after the water is shut off. The water that is collected is used to finish cooking customer’s orders and used to clean dishes. While I understand that residents and visitors should restrict their water usage during this dry season, I have never heard of any town actually shutting off their supply of water after a certain time. It must be very difficult for the employees to estimate how much water they will actually need that night. On the small island of Inis Oirr there is a large freshwater lake, Loch Mor however they can not use this water as drinking water.

Loch Mór

How could an island that is surrounded by water be forced to endure nighttime water restrictions.

Clear Waters by Shelby Payanis

On the shores of Inisheer

Standing on the shores of the Aran Islands is like being on a beach at a resort in the Caribbean. The water is as clear and as blue as the sky on a clear sunny day, and the sand is soft in between your toes like butter.

When we arrived at the first Aran Island that we visited (Inishmoor) I remember asking one man – “How come your ocean looks as clear and as blue as the water in the Caribbean?” He smiled and giggled at my question and then said to me – “We care about our waters and the animals within them…There are seals and other creatures that need a good place to live too.” I thought that this was interesting because there are several groups in America who work every day to protect our aquatic wildlife, but yet, our waters stay dark, murky and polluted.

The waves crash up on shore.

I learned that in 2007 parts of County Galway (which is near the Aran Islands) experienced an outbreak of Cryptosporidium – a parasite that can cause serious stomach problems. It was said that water pollution was the cause of this outbreak, and as a result many people had to boil any water that they were going to consume. Like anything else in the world, it usually takes a tragedy to create change, but it seems as though the country, and county, came together to make a difference – and a fast one at that. It has been ten years since that outbreak and their bodies of water could not look any better. Perhaps it was the overwhelming sense of community in the country that enabled the change to come so quickly, but whatever it was, we definitely need a change like this one back in the states.

Although this country does a great job on cutting back on the amount of water pollution and water consumption in the country, I do have to admit that there are an overwhelming amount of water bottles sold in Ireland. In every store that we went to there were several different brands of water bottles for sale, and they all featured a notice on the back that read – “Must be consumed within three days.” This means that if someone had a water bottle sitting in their house for a week or so, then they would go out and buy another one instead of drinking the water or refilling the plastic bottle. I later learned that, “Irish consumers spent more than €76.5 million on bottled water,” which is a lot of money that could be going towards better causes.

I believe that the citizens of Ireland need to be informed of these facts. They are doing a great job in helping our Earth, but this is one of the biggest issues not only in this country, but around the globe, that needs to change. If the country can ensure clean and safe drinking water for its people, then more and more people should be taking the time to use refillable water bottles.

When Supply Can’t Meet Demand

I had a list of things to accomplish before going to bed. At the top of the list was taking a shower. Getting everything needed, I started the shower and was greeted with a noise similar to a vacuum cleaner. Our shower appeared to be broken. It was the same problem all over the hostel. A few texts and some research solved the mystery. Due to water shortages, restrictions had been put in place on Inis Mór to conserve water.

I had never heard of such a restriction before, with the water being turned off from 11PM to 8AM. Water is a resource that is often taken for granted. Once the initial shock of not having access to water and the logistical challenges that presented had passed, it really sunk in that the island I was staying on only had access to water for 15 hours a day while these restrictions remained in place. I wondered about the logistical challenges that they faced as a result–much larger than my inability to take a shower before bed.

The following morning we headed to the smallest of the Aran Islands. Checking in to our hostel, the manager, Linda, told us that water restrictions were in place from 9PM to 8AM. I asked her how long the restrictions had been in place, and she said they had started at the beginning of May but the length of the restrictions had been increased recently due to increasing shortages. Linda told me that last year their reservoir had several problems with leaking, which had diminished their water supply. This, combined with a fairly dry winter, placed them in their current predicament. She shared that they had to have water delivered from Galway, but that this was a very costly practice and not a viable option to solve the problem.

Troughs like these are used to catch rainwater, where the farm animals can drink water without further diminishing the local water supply

Inis Oírr, the smallest of the Aran Islands, has a population of approximately 250 people. I had a hard time wrapping my head around them having a water shortage, but a later conversation with another local explained things even more clearly to me. Fionán, a shopkeeper at a craft and wool shop, told me that the reservoir has the capacity to provide water for 400 people. This should be sufficient for the island’s population, however when you take into account that 500-700 people visit daily during tourist season, the reservoir doesn’t have the capacity to keep up. The island also doesn’t experience rain in the same way as the mainland, with showers quickly passing over as they travel inland. These conditions make it difficult to keep the water supply where it needs to be.

Despite the difficulties and inconvenience associated with the water restrictions, the locals remained positive while also being intentional about their water use. At the hostel, signs alerted us all to the water shortage, urging us to be conscious about our water use. I took this to heart, but it also struck me that we should always be conscious of our water use, because it is a necessary resource that isn’t as readily available to everyone.


Kate’s Gallery