Water Conservation Essay

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Water conse rvation aims at influencing water utilization in order to achieve more efficient, equitable, and sustainable water consumption levels. It is mainly a tool for on-site and watershed approaches, since it originally focused on conserving water as stored soil moisture and groundwater. With increasing population and water demand, conservation of this limited resource becomes ever more important. The notion that freshwater is a finite resource arises as the global hydrological cycle on average yields a fixed quantity of water per time period. Humans cannot yet alter this overall quantity significantly, although it frequently is depleted by human-made pollution. Drought, water stress, and scarcity are often the strongest incentives for end-users to implement water conservation strategies. As water demand continues to grow, a choice must be made: Either to augment water supplies or to limit demand-the latter is more effective.

User Behavior

Agriculture, especially irrigation, is globally the largest user of freshwater, consuming about 70 percent of all water withdrawn from rivers, lakes, and groundwater. Efficient water management practices and improved irrigation technologies are crucial in reducing water use in agriculture. Irrigation scheduling involves managing the soil water reservoir in such a way that water is available when crops need it. It is necessary to determine all variables of the water cycle. The easiest method of soil moisture monitoring is to observe the soil appearance at various soil depths within the root zone. Other methods to measure soil moisture content, like tension-meters, determine the suction head a plant needs to abstract water from the soil. Monitoring air temperature, precipitation, air humidity, and evapotranspiration is important to determine how much water is available for the crop and helps to estimate when and how much water should be used during irrigation.

In developed countries, sophisticated digital recording systems are used to control and monitor water availability, as well as water applications. Many types of irrigation systems are available, such as sprinkler, center-pivot, furrow, and flood irrigation systems. However, drip irrigation is the most efficient method as far as water and nutrient applications are concerned, and it can be effectively applied on uneven terrain and in high-value greenhouse crops. With all irrigation systems, drainage of irrigation water is a crucial component of avoiding water pollution. Inefficient irrigation and drainage management, together with inappropriate irrigation, lessens water quality and causes severe soil salinity problems.

In areas where sprinkler systems are used, care should be taken to ensure that the system is not over-designed; furthermore, sprinkler use in hot climates is a cause of increasing soil salinity, since precipitating water droplets evaporate easily, leaving salt crystals behind. Automatic systems should incorporate an override to prevent the sprinklers from operating during wet periods. Plants with similar water needs should be grouped together so that they can be watered for the same length of time and in the same amounts. In cases where expensive irrigation systems are used, they should be equipped with a soil moisture controller that will restrict irrigation to when it is needed.

In small-scale schemes, irrigation should be restricted to the early mornings when evaporation is lowest and crop water demand is highest. Many varieties of grasses used in the lawns of housing areas in developed countries are not drought-resistant and require regular irrigation, though drought-resistant species are available. Small trenches can harvest natural runoff and irrigation water to the areas where needed. Creating micro-basins around specific plants will enable them to be watered individually. Spreading mulch reduces the water lost to evaporation by up to 70 percent, as well as preventing excessive runoff, inhibiting weed growth, and supplying nutrients to the soil. Drip irrigation uses significantly less water than normal irrigation systems and is equally effective. With increasing prices for piped water, the investment for the drip systems may pay off quickly. While small-scale farmers in developing countries often lack resources to invest in pumps or sufficient energy for technical irrigation, low-cost irrigation technologies (such as treadle pumps and drip irrigation) are becoming more widespread.

An increasing number of industrial enterprises in developed countries implement efficient water consumption programs. Industrial ground and surface water utilization and the use of water taken from public supply networks have been reduced considerably, mainly in industrialized countries. More and more industrial enterprises are transferring to a rational use of water through the multiple use of water or closed production cycles. Water-saving reduces overall costs and saves energy at the same time (for example, energy saved from a reduced use of water pumps and a reduced amount of water that needs to be cleaned afterwards). Water management plans should consider if groundwater can be substituted by surface water, and if the use of drinking water quality is necessary for different production processes.

Domestic water consumption can be greatly reduced through individual technical measures, such as flow-limiting taps or water-stop flush buttons for toilets. Installation of individual meters (for a household) to monitor usage and the costs related to it is essential. Modern washing and dishwashing machines are significantly more water efficient than earlier models (down from 150 to less than 60 liters in 25 years, reaching less than 30 liters per washing cycle in Europe). Moreover, changing personal behavior could halve total water consumption; for instance, through the replacement of a seal from a dripping tap, and stopping the tap while brushing teeth. It is important to encourage end-users to install water-saving devices at the time of their investment, for example, when they build a house or factory. End-users will only do so if they are aware of the water-saving options and the benefits in terms of cost savings. End-users would need to be encouraged to invest in water-efficient fittings through the amendment of by-laws and codes that regulate building practices. However, the best tool in developed countries for reducing water consumption and waste is to increase the price of water for a high standard product.

Measurement of Losses

In developing countries, most water supplies are unmetered. In many instances, water standpipes or blocks of houses have never been fitted with meters, or they have broken. In these cases, neither water departments nor individual end-users know how much water is being used. Effective billing cannot take place, and water demand management plans cannot be implemented effectively. The calibration, repair, and replacement of meters are important components of a water conservation strategy. A periodic calibration of system supply and customer meters provides a more accurate measurement of the water supply and use. Furthermore, unlicensed use of water, water losses through broken pipes, and water wastage can only be determined if appropriate metering takes place.

Cost Recovery

In many countries, fees or taxes do not cover the costs of providing water. This may result in low service levels, water coverage insufficiencies, and under-funded operating costs. As a consequence, infrastructure deteriorates and service quality declines. Inadequate cost-recovery will result in an inability to operate and maintain existing supplies with consequent increases of leakages, supply interruptions, and likely deterioration in the quality and quantity of the water supplied. This leads to increased public health risks, with possible increases in disease, morbidity, and mortality rates.

The commercialization of water provision aims at introducing appropriate water tariffs that consider the full costs for water provision. At the same time, it is known that users are only willing to pay a price for a quality product that is available when needed. It is known from rural and peri-urban areas in Africa, with water provision from vendors and public stand posts, that prices for potable water are often more than five times higher than in high-income areas with house connections. Willingness to pay often exceeds the ability to pay. Therefore, block tariffs and cross subsidies are essential for sustainable and cost-covering water provision at sufficiently high technical and service standards. An important factor in cost-recovery is the setting of adequate standards of service. It has been shown that consumers are willing to pay for good quality services and are prepared to pay increased costs for improved services in terms of water quality and supply continuity.

Commercialization should not be misunderstood as the privatization of public water providers. For investments in low-income areas, government subsidies remain important. Many water suppliers argue that in order for them to raise the capital required to improve service quality, tariffs which reflect the cost of doing this need to be charged immediately; which may lead to unaffordable prices for many. However, from a public health point of view, it is vital that service quality improvements in poor areas should be implemented immediately. There is a significant risk that users will disconnect from an expensive, but poor quality service. This will inevitably lead to greater health risks as unprotected water sources are used for water supplies.

Closed Water Loop Concept

The closed water loop concept is a management tool within water demand management. At the scale of the household, neighborhood, community, industry, or institution, water can be managed as a closed loop. Water inputs of various qualities can be brought into the closed water loop for the various water applications where the water quality is matched with the intended application requirements. Every drop of water can be used at least twice before it is sent out of the loop. After water is used, the generated wastewater is segregated according to the level and type of contamination it contains. The wastewater streams are treated and the recycled water is kept in the loop and used in the appropriate applications.

At the scale of the household and residential buildings, the highest quality water is reserved for drinking, food preparation, and hygiene requirements. Water of lower quality can be used for landscaping or toilet flushing. Grey-water is separated, treated, and kept in the household water loop for landscaping or toilet flushing. Wastewater from the toilets and kitchen can be treated in a septic tank followed by a sub-surface wetland. The sub-surface wetland can aid the treatment process and be built within the household landscape to grow ornamental plants. The treated effluent can be applied though sub-surface irrigation networks to irrigate trees and to create habitat. This concept offers the potential of increased water conservation worldwide.

While water conservation (and conservation in general) is largely regarded as a positive environmental activity, there are important caveats. In many cases, conservation of water in water-scarce environments by individuals or communities may leave more water available in the system to allow growth or expansion of new settlement or economic activity, with concomitant water use problems as well as other undesired environmental outcomes. In other words, individual efforts at conservation may simply lead to increased consumption elsewhere. Sometimes called “Jevon’s Paradox,” this critical approach to conservation does not deny or refute the importance of reduced consumption for overall sustainability of ecosystems, however. Water conservation is therefore a complex problem not only in technical terms (i.e., how) but also in political and economic ones (i.e., why or why not).


  1. G. Allen et al., “Crop Evapotranspiration: Guidelines for Computing Crop Water Requirements,” Irrigation Drainage Paper 56 (Food and Agriculture Organization, 1998);
  2. A. Blackmore et al., “A Comparison of the Efficiency of Manual and Automatic Dishwashing for the Removal of Bacteria from Domestic Crockery,” Journal of Consumer Studies and Home Economics (v.7/1, 1983);
  3. Boberg, Liquid Assets, How Demographic Changes and Water Management Policies Affect Freshwater Resources (RAND Corporation, 2005);
  4. W.J. Cosgrove and F.R. Rijsberman, Water Vision: Making Water Everybody’s Business (World Water Council, 2001);
  5. Gumbo et al., “Training Needs for Water Demand Management,” 4th WaterNet/WARFSA Symposium: Water, Science, Technology and Policy: Convergence and Action by All (Gabarone, 2003);
  6. Toward Water Security: A Framework for Action (Global Water Partnership, 2000).

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