More than 580 billion litres of drinking water, the equivalent of 236,000 Olympic swimming pools, are being wasted every year by homeowners in the Great Lakes region of Ontario and Quebec, according to a report released today by Environmental Defence. Down the Drain: Water Conservation in the Great Lakes Basin outlines how much water could be saved in bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms and gardens across the Great Lakes.

“Surrounded by all this water, we sometimes don’t appreciate all that it provides us,” said Mike Layton, deputy outreach director for Environmental Defence. “We need this water to survive, to power our homes, for recreation—to maintain our quality of life. We can’t afford to waste it.”

The report found that the largest water savings could be achieved by replacing old toilets. Converting all remaining old toilets to high efficient six-litres-per-flush toilets would save 213 billion litres of water every year, roughly the equivalent to the annual water use of the City of Toronto.

Upgrading old washing machines would save an additional 162 billion litres each year, enough to run three billion loads of laundry, while switching to low-flow showerheads could save an additional 65 billion litres annually, equal to a shower left running for 12,361 years. Planting drought-tolerant plants and changing landscaping techniques would save an additional 138 billion litres of water, the equivalent of the water used in three million NHL ice rinks.

Using data from the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance, the report also calculated that 102 million kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions, a greenhouse gas responsible for global warming, could be reduced per year from the potential water conservation outlined in the report from the treatment, pumping and heating of water. Households could also save an estimated $180 million per year from these water savings and municipalities could defer as much as $5.5 billion in taxes from water and wastewater infrastructure expansion.

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“The savings to the municipal governments and on our water bills are alone a very compelling reason to stop wasting water, but factor in the environment and social costs of lower lake levels and there is absolutely no reason to keep behaving the way we are,” says Layton.

The report makes several recommendations for individuals and governments, including:

  • Reducing our water footprint by fixing leaks and switching to water-saving fixtures and appliances;
  • Using technologies for capturing and reusing water;
  • Using water differently outdoors; and,
  • Expanding water-saving incentive programs for single-family and multi-unit residential buildings.

The Ontario government’s recently proposed Water Opportunities and Water Conservation Act could position the province to meet many of these recommendations, while investing in a new global economic sector and creating jobs in a growing international sector, says the report.

20 COMMENTS

  1. Real quick question, the water that we use comes from Lake Ontario or one of the Great Lakes. When we flush our toilet or wash our hands, where does this water go?? Does it just disappear? No, it gets processed and released back into the lake.
    So where am I missing the boat by hearing that we are wasting this water?
    Yes, I can certainly see the evaporation effect when it comes to watering our lawns. Also, there is an energy wastage when it comes to pumping and processing the water. This is where I can see where we can certainly make a gain in conservation, not on the loss of our water.

  2. Real quick question, the water that we use comes from Lake Ontario or one of the Great Lakes. When we flush our toilet or wash our hands, where does this water go?? Does it just disappear? No, it gets processed and released back into the lake.
    So where am I missing the boat by hearing that we are wasting this water?
    Yes, I can certainly see the evaporation effect when it comes to watering our lawns. Also, there is an energy wastage when it comes to pumping and processing the water. This is where I can see where we can certainly make a gain in conservation, not on the loss of our water.

  3. @Allan.

    To me, this article deals more with wasting water with bad habits than simply washing your hands. Too many times we see the suburbs dumdums washing their frontyard asphalt with a garden hose because they are too lazy to use a broom. But there are others tricks, like waiting for a full load of clothes when washing, putting a simple brick in the watertank of your toilet to reduce the volume of water flushed, etc. Common sense really. And this does not keep you from washing your hands.

    The point is not where the water goes, but how we use it.

  4. @Allan.

    To me, this article deals more with wasting water with bad habits than simply washing your hands. Too many times we see the suburbs dumdums washing their frontyard asphalt with a garden hose because they are too lazy to use a broom. But there are others tricks, like waiting for a full load of clothes when washing, putting a simple brick in the watertank of your toilet to reduce the volume of water flushed, etc. Common sense really. And this does not keep you from washing your hands.

    The point is not where the water goes, but how we use it.

  5. To respond to the first comment, I would like to add that ‘treated’ water includes chlorine which does pose stress to overall water quality of the Lakes. Also, in large municipalities like Toronto during storms raw sewage is released into the Lake due to combined sewer overflows. This is caused by the combination of high (most times wasteful) water use and heavy rain event.

    In terms of the Great Lakes, I think its vital to remember that only 1% is regenerated each year – by rain. Less rain means lower lake levels (already experienced in Lake Ontario), and therefore a higher concentration of pollutants.

    Finally, not 100% of water taken from the source (e.g. Great Lakes) is returned. Water is dynamic, it may return to the same watershed but not specifically a body of water.

    Okay, very last point… Canadians are on par with the US as the highest users of water – that’s not something to dismiss or be proud of. Washing the sidewalk or watering your lawn until the entire street is one puddle doesn’t make any sense. Taking ownership of our behaviour and how our water is used is important.

  6. To respond to the first comment, I would like to add that ‘treated’ water includes chlorine which does pose stress to overall water quality of the Lakes. Also, in large municipalities like Toronto during storms raw sewage is released into the Lake due to combined sewer overflows. This is caused by the combination of high (most times wasteful) water use and heavy rain event.

    In terms of the Great Lakes, I think its vital to remember that only 1% is regenerated each year – by rain. Less rain means lower lake levels (already experienced in Lake Ontario), and therefore a higher concentration of pollutants.

    Finally, not 100% of water taken from the source (e.g. Great Lakes) is returned. Water is dynamic, it may return to the same watershed but not specifically a body of water.

    Okay, very last point… Canadians are on par with the US as the highest users of water – that’s not something to dismiss or be proud of. Washing the sidewalk or watering your lawn until the entire street is one puddle doesn’t make any sense. Taking ownership of our behaviour and how our water is used is important.

  7. We installed a low flow toilet in our washroom and it works great. We’ve gone back to the farm septic technique of “If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down” (or if there’s company flush it down). Plus a low flow showerhead. Saves a lot of water. Water saving should be more regulated than it is. We are going in the right direction by phasing out large flush toilets but it could go alot faster. We are living in an insulated bubble of resources. All anyone needs to do is go someplace where there is hardly anything to open your eyes up. I hear some soldiers in the desert are alloted one cup a day of water for personal hygiene. You’d learn to be efficient pretty quick!

  8. We installed a low flow toilet in our washroom and it works great. We’ve gone back to the farm septic technique of “If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down” (or if there’s company flush it down). Plus a low flow showerhead. Saves a lot of water. Water saving should be more regulated than it is. We are going in the right direction by phasing out large flush toilets but it could go alot faster. We are living in an insulated bubble of resources. All anyone needs to do is go someplace where there is hardly anything to open your eyes up. I hear some soldiers in the desert are alloted one cup a day of water for personal hygiene. You’d learn to be efficient pretty quick!

  9. Hi, do you mean 580 trillion? Because if you convert 580 billion litres of water to the number of Olympic-sized swimming pools, you would only get 232 of the pools. Please reply. URGENT

  10. Hi, do you mean 580 trillion? Because if you convert 580 billion litres of water to the number of Olympic-sized swimming pools, you would only get 232 of the pools. Please reply. URGENT

  11. Hi Nicholas,
    please do check your calculations again. You should be getting 232,000 swimming pools. which is around 236 000.
    Thank you

  12. Hi Nicholas,
    please do check your calculations again. You should be getting 232,000 swimming pools. which is around 236 000.
    Thank you

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