Every Drop Counts

I go to take my first shower in the Eco-Village in the small village of Cloughjordan, my first experience with water in Ireland. There is a shower head but not the typical nozzle or handle to turn on to get water pressure and no indication whatsoever of any control of temperature. There is only a button to press on the wall, and when you press it the water turns on for about 15-20 seconds and then turns off and you have to hit it again. Showering like this gave me a new appreciation for how much you water I normally use and how much I actually need. As someone who tends to take longer showers, often just standing there contemplating life, being somewhere that conserves as much water as possible really made me think about and realize that I don’t need all the water I have been using and how important it is to conserve what I can. 

Another way that the eco-village in Cloughjordan saves water is by conserving water coming from sinks. When I went to wash my dishes after my first meal I found the sink full of water and immediately went to drain it before washing my dishes. I was quickly stopped by Pa, a resident of the eco-village and owner of the hostel we were staying at, who instructed me to use the water in the sink to wash instead of running the water the entire time while 20 people wash their dishes. While this was something to get used to it did conserve a lot of water and made me appreciate all of the other times i’m using water unnecessarily. The eco-village, while focusing the most on it, was not the only place in Ireland that is conserving water.

On the island of Inis Oirr water must be conserved especially carefully during the summer months, when there can be water shortages. In early June when we were there, water was being ferried to the island from the mainland up to three times a day. This meant that water was a large focus for the community at that time and the hostel we stayed at encouraged us to save as much water as possible. The owner of the hostel explained this on our first day and asked us to take short showers and “only flush when necessary”. In other places in Ireland that didn’t have a water shortage they still focus on conserving water and there were signs in both of the hotels that I stayed in asking people to be conscientious of the water that is used washing towels and bed linens. It was impressive to see how many people and establishments cared about conserving water and how many small changes to daily life can have a large impact.

A Sign About Conserving Water in a Hotel in Spiddal

 

An Imported Water Supply

How many times a day do you use water? See water? It’s probably more than you think. As my professor, Dr. O’Connell said, “You can’t survive without water.” This statement is true. It is crucial to all communities to have a supply of water for drinking, the sink, the shower, and the toilet. Most people do not think twice about their water usage and I was one of them. However, since my trip to Ireland, it is clear that water consciousness and water conservation is very important.

Water conservation in Ireland became evident in our first hostel in the Eco Village in Cloughjordan. Both the sinks and the showers had a push button system for the water. For the sink, I would push the button and water would come out and if my hands weren’t completely rinsed by the time the water ran out I would push it again. The showers also worked on the same push-button system. But, when the button was pressed, the water ran for about 30 seconds. To complete my shower, I had to press the button an uncountable amount of times. This made me pay attention to the amount of water I use when I shower and use the sink.

The other place I visited that stood out in my mind about water consciousness was the hostel, Bru Rhadarch na Mara, we stayed in Inisheer. Inisheer is the smallest of three islands off the coast of mainland Ireland. Since the island is so small, they do not have a freshwater supply. They can no longer use rain water because they have acid rain caused by emissions. Additionally, their aquifers have not been replenished due to dry and hot summers as a result of climate change. In order to get water, they import water from Galway which comes by ship 2-3 times a day.  Last year, there were even water restrictions enforced on the island. Since water is limited, there were signs all around our hostel about conserving water. These signs promote short showers and only flushing when necessary. Although these are only two examples of places trying to conserve water, due to climate change, many other places risk drying up their water supply in the future. Therefore, being conscious of water use is important for all communities. 

Fish Out of Water

A sign posted on the toilet at Rowan Hostel in Ennis.

Travelling to an unknown country can be a nerve-wracking experience for anyone. You often have to handle a new language, different cultural expectations, and much, much more. However, one might assume things would be relatively easy to understand in the bathroom.

My first indication that the plumbing systems in Ireland differed from the States was in the bathroom at the Park Inn right across the street from Shannon Airport. There were two buttons above the toilet to flush, and it was unclear whether you were supposed to push the smaller button to flush less amounts of human waste, the bigger button being for larger amounts. This aspect of the bathrooms would help to save water by using less amounts of water to flush, unless a larger amount is required. Although this system of two buttons is eco-friendly, it was unclear what the difference between the two buttons was.

The Larger or Smaller Button?

Even when I asked people who lived in Ireland, no one could give me a clear answer of the difference between the two buttons. Most assumed the larger button was for a larger flush, but a few suggested that the larger button was easier to press and therefore was for smaller, more frequent flushes. Because of the user’s confusion, particularly for someone who is from outside the country, he or she may end up pressing the bigger button even though it is not necessary.

 Another element of the bathrooms which differed from those in the US also concerned flushing. The toilets at the Ecovillage in Cloughjordan had a flush handle that appeared similar to ones in the US, but we discovered that this handle had to be pumped a couple times before the toilet would flush completely. You could also hold the handle down for longer if you required more water to flush the toilet. Again, this system conserves water by giving the user a certain amount of control over how much water is used to flush, but it also does not make this clear to the user. At first, a couple people at the Ecovillage thought the toilets were broken because they would not flush completely on the first pump. 

These differences in the plumbing systems of Ireland allow for the user to conserve water. Although it may not be clear at first to new users, the additional measures conserve small amounts of water which will aid a greater effort to help the environment.

A Conversation about Water Conservation

Ireland makes several efforts to conserve water and use this precious resource responsibly. One way Ireland conserves water is by installing showers and sinks with timers. Every ten seconds or so, the running water will turn off automatically. This is an effort to cut down on wasted water because many people either forget to turn the water off or they leave the water on when they are not using it. I noticed this invention in a few places in Ireland including Cloughjordan ecovillage, the Westport hostel, and at Ennis.  

This sign encourages guests to make an effort by flushing toilets only when appropriate.

Another effort of water conservation I noticed was in the hostel at Ennis. There is a sign in the bathrooms, on top of the toilet that reads “Think before you flush.” I also heard a woman who works at the hostel remind guests to only flush when necessary. One example the woman gave is when a person is in the bathroom and they know another person is going to come right in and use the bathroom, the first person can wait to flush. Therefore one toilet flush can dispose of both people’s waste. Tons of water is wasted in the bathroom and this effort has the potential to make a powerful impact on the planet.

A third effort I noticed was an invention that was put to use at the ecovillage in Cloughjordan as well as the hostel in Ennis. The toilets there featured a dual button. One section of the button is meant to be pressed when only a small flush is needed. The other part of the button is for bigger flushes. Having these two options makes a strong effort to conserve water and only fully flush a toilet when it is needed.

This button located on the toilet offers two options. Choose wisely.

After noticing these elements of Ireland’s effort towards water conservation, I realized that Ireland has many features that work towards helping to preserve water. Ireland has various methods and systems in place to use their water in limited but effective quantities. Ireland does a wonderful job of conserving water and other places that do not work to conserve water could learn a thing or two from Ireland’s ways.