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The cost of a leaky faucet

Look at any map of Canada and you're sure to see lots of blue. Home to the Great Lakes, the largest surface area of freshwater in the world, Canada has approximately seven percent of the world's renewable freshwater and only 0.5 percent of its population. But there are problems with this "myth of superabundance."

While 12 percent of Canada is covered with water, only three percent of it is located in inhabitable areas. What's more, while 60 percent of our water supply flows north, the majority of Canadians live and work along our southern border and this concentration is only expected to grow.

"Canada has lots of water -- it's just not in the places we always need it," says Christopher Hilkene, president of the Clean Water Foundation in Toronto.

This perception of an abundant water supply coupled with low prices has created a thirsty, wasteful nation. According the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Canada ranks 28th out of 29 nations in terms of per capita water consumption (only the United States is a bigger user). On average, Canadians consume more than twice the water of most European countries -- almost 350 litres daily -- but we pay less than half for it.

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Increasing levels of water use put a strain on our rivers, lakes and groundwater supplies, which are already threatened by pollution and the uncertain effects of climate change. They also stress our water treatment plants and distribution systems, which in turn force hikes in our water rates.

To complicate matters, the nature of water-related issues depends largely on location. Calgary, for example, could be facing a water shortage in the future due to a growing population on a finite river-based water supply. For Toronto, supply isn't an issue but an aging infrastructure that's hugely expensive to repair and maintain is.

While power generation and the manufacturing sector account for over three-quarters of water usage in Canada, individual Canadians can make a difference and the first place to start is with your own home.

"The biggest water savings are going to come from implementing more efficient technologies in your home," says Hilkene. "With water efficiency measures, you don't have to change the way you're doing things, you just have to do it smarter."

So, whatever your motivation, here are a number of ways you can stop flushing money and precious water down the drain.

In the bathroom
Almost 65 percent of water use happens in the bathroom, and toilets are the biggest water wasters in your home. "One of the easiest things people can do is to replace their toilet with a new low-use model," says Nancy Stalker, leader of community and customer initiatives with the City of Calgary's water resources department. "Toilets are the number one users of potable drinking water."

While older models flush up to 20 litres of water down the drain with each use, today's efficient models use between 4.5 and six litres. According to the Calgary Economic Times, this translates into a savings of over 52,000 litres of water each year for a 2.5-person household that flushes five times a day. If your municipality offers a rebate program for the purchase of a low-flush toilet, you'll be saving more than just water.

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-- Posted: Feb. 13, 2008
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