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. 

Push Start Shower?

Before shipping out of Boston to Ireland, I read some of the blogs from last year’s trip. I noticed some students talked about push start showers. These showers required you to push a button every 15 seconds to get the water to start. If you forgot to push the button, the water would turn off. Not only did you have to push a button, but you were unable to adjust the temperature of the water. If you got lucky, you had warm water. Hot water was usually scarce when other residents were showering at a similar time. Reading this before I arrived in Ireland, I felt a sense of panic. When I first arrived in the Ecovillage, the first thing I checked was to see if those blog posts were true. To my dismay I saw a button and no way to adjust the temperature. I began to dread the day I had to take a shower. After learning more about the Ecovillage, and the steps they are taking to reduce their carbon footprint, I began to appreciate the way the bathroom was set up.  I then took my first ecovillage shower. To my surprise, I did not find it as challenging as I thought it would be.  The button restricted people to shorter showers. Which then reduced the amount of water wasted per shower.

In places like Inis Oirr short showers were a way of life.  Being on a small island, water can be scarce from time to time and has to be closely monitored. Their struggle to have a consistent water supply, led them to have water shipped to them from Galway twice a week.  When I entered the hostel on Inis Oirr, we were informed that they had a water shortage on the island on last year’s trip. This restricted people from using water from 7 pm to roughly 6 am. This was a typical thing that occurred on the island, due to their small water supply. Walking around the hostel, near sinks, showers, and toilets, there were flyers that read, “Keep it short. Water shortage on the island. Thank you!” These flyers served as a constant reminder to keep it short, because of their limited water supply. By either taking a quick shower, not leaving the faucet running, and only flushing when necessary, water supplies would last longer. Coming from a place where I don’t have to worry about water shortages, I suddenly became more aware of my shower time. I used what I learned from my showers in the Ecovillage, to help conserve water during my stay in Inis Oirr. 

Water usage is something that some people in America are not conscious about. They seem to think they have an unlimited water supply at their fingertips. Living in these different water usage environments has opened my eyes to become more aware that long and hot showers are not the most necessary thing in the world. These shower set ups got me in the routine of taking shorter showers. After the Ecovillage, I found myself turning off the water when I put in my shampoo and conditioner, then, turning it back on after I was done mixing it in my hair. Living in these water conscious environments exposed us to other ways of living and will allow us to bring these new techniques back to America.

 

Surrounded by Water

Water, crystal clear and blue, surrounded our journey through Ireland along the road side and islands. From ocean water to bottled water, the purity is “gorgeous.”  As I purchased my first water bottle, I read a label stating, “Keep refrigerated.  Use within 3 days” and nutrition facts expressing how many minerals were in the water.  After coming to Ireland, I think that making good use of water resources is extremely important, even if it’s offering tap water or having a fountain to refill instead of waste.

        In Cloughjordan, the water would turn off every ten seconds in the shower and faucet.  At first, I didn’t think I could do this and was frustrated.   Although, I pushed through and honestly learned so much about water and how important it is to this country.  In the Aran Islands, there was a water shortage, where the water shut off at 9pm and turned back on at 8:30am.  We learned this the hard way the first night, and had to try and find solutions for brushing our teeth without ANY water.  This was eye-opening to me because even though I had water in Cloughjordan, I really understood how much I rely on water on a day to day basis, and also how much I use of it.   It made me reconsider what would happen if a water shortage or drought occurred for a long period of time.  I think we all needed a slight reality check from the luxurious water supply we use in the states and recognize how to go without water at all.

        As for the beach water, it is crystal clear turquoise blue.  This was shocking to me because it looked as if it was Mediterranean water.  I believe the water is so beautiful here because pollution is not as extreme here as it is in many other places.  Also, caring for the environment helps care for the oceans and quality of the shoreline as well.  The land, air, and water are all clean therefore it has remained this way for a period of time.  Many people tell you to not drink the water in other countries, and I was nervous before coming here to drink the tap water.  This has changed so much since I’ve been here, and I believe the water is cleaner than it is in the U.S.  I loved knowing what went into my water bottle rather than just expecting water is good for you.  It is important to take care of our waterways to enable a positive lifestyle for the future.

Aran Islands

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.