Have I bragged yet about the many ways in which we conserve water? Well, I’ve told you about how we rush around to capture – or at least avoid losing to the atmosphere – the water that is vented by our rooftop volcano. I trust you know about our rainwater harvesting system. I’ve probably mentioned how when I go for a shower and a blast of fairly frigid water streams out for the first three minutes or so, I collect this water in a bucket to put to use later on for mopping the floor or watering the plants or even washing the cars. You might have heard that our kids use only about half a bucket of water for their baths, no shower except on Sundays to get the shampoo out. You might even recall from a previous post of mine, that if you turn on the taps in our house to their fullest extent, you would not get half as much of a gush of water as you’d expect, because the control valves are turned to the almost-off position. And of course you know that the water used for mopping the floors does not go down the drain, but instead goes directly to feed our water-hungry lawn.
Since we moved into this house, we’ve been running our water pump manually, so we pretty much know how often we run it and how much water it pumps. If we fill our 500 litre overhead tank to capacity, we can go 48 hours without running out of water. So clearly, we use about 250 litres a day. Even our rain water goes directly into the underground sump now, and has to be pumped up, so there’s no way we could be using any water from anywhere else without being aware of it. At 250 litres a day, we should be going through 7500 litres a month. Let’s add in some buffer for weekends, occasional white-water use for the grass, or whatever. Let’s say 9000 litres a month.
Imagine our shock when we were quietly presented a bill for 42,000 litres of water used in January! That’s about 1400 litres of water per day!
Even in our previous residence we never got such a high water bill – and there we shared the water with another family who lived on the ground floor and were not particularly careful in their use of water. So how?
We pulled out previous months’ bills. 22,000 lts, 24,000 lts, 25,000 lts.
We searched our consciences. Had we been consistently emptying out the overhead tank almost every day? We had not. Besides, even if we had, it would amount to only 15,000 lts in a 30-day month. To consume that much water, we’d have had to run the pump more than once a day.
So we decided there were three distinct possibilities: the bill was wrong, the meter was faulty, or our sump was leaking.
The last two were truly dreadful options. If the meter reading were wrong, it would be simplest to verify, and hopefully not too troublesome to fix. If the meter itself were faulty… we had no idea how to go about remedying the situation, but surely it would not be easy. And if the sump was leaking… heaven help us.
We verified the meter reading first. It tallied.
Then we looked at the sump. When water was coming, it filled up merrily, the meter spinning like a miniature roulette wheel. When water was not coming, all was quiet. However, though all was still quiet when we checked again the next morning, there was an ominous water mark on the side of the sump and the water level had visibly dipped overnight. And no, we hadn’t run the pump that day. Our hearts sank along with the sinking water level.
Amit, with his usual military-precision approach, did the observation, calculation, and interpretation, by kneeling at the edge of the sump several times over the course of two days, using a measuring tape to check the rate of leakage. Left to itself, the water level reduced at the rate of several inches in a whole day. If we filled up the almost-empty overhead tank, approximately 500 lts reduced the water level by approximately two-and-a-half inches. Once the water level had reduced to a certain extent, the leak slowed down and stopped. Therefore, it was a big leak (not good) and it was near the top of the tank (good). The thing with it being near the top of the tank is, when the water level is somewhat below maximum, it won’t leak. But – we had a 15,000 lts tank built for a reason – so that we’d have sufficient water stored up to tide us through a dry period. If we couldn’t use the top so many inches, then effectively we were working with a much smaller tank. Besides… the inflow of water into the sump is controlled by a ball-and-cock arrangement. If the ball were low enough, water would come in. We can turn it off manually, but that’s clearly much too much headache.
There’s no option but to get it fixed.
You’d think that since the leak is near the top and the water level has already sunk below the leak, it should be easy enough to fix. Apparently, it’s not so. They will waterproof the entire tank, which means the entire tank must be emptied out. By our estimate, there must be about 7,000 lts of water in the tank even now. That’s almost a month of water. We could take a chance and finish the stored water in the normal course of events and then get the tank fixed, but that’s living on the thin edge. It could take more than three weeks to finish the water, even if we use it “freely” – by our standards. By that time, if the water supply situation turns bad, we can look forward to a long summer of tanker water. Right now it’s a little safer. The water board has been kind enough to supply us 42,000 lts in January. If we can get this work done in the next few days, then we only need 24,000 lts or so to give us a one month supply of water and fill the sump to capacity again.
So what we’re planning to do right now is, we are going to empty the sump. We are going to use as much as we can, store as much as we can in the overhead tank, a 300 lt supplementary rain water harvesting tank, and the 16 sq ft, 5 ft deep gray water tank, and run the rest of it out into the lawn. If we do this on Monday, as planned, it will be about 5000 lts of water going into my grass. The grass should be happy – if it doesn’t get flooded. Amit, of course, is in agony. He’s thinking about all sorts of ways to store that water for a couple of days. Buy another tank? But it will hold only 500 or maybe 1000 lts and where on earth will we keep it? Call for an empty water tanker and fill it up? But how do you get water into a water tanker? We’d have to use the pump to pump it all up to our overhead tank and then use the garden hose to draw it out of a tap in the garden. 5000 lts? Sounds crazy, right? And no water tanker is going to agree to wait around for 48 hours till our work gets done. Amit even thought of giving it away, but to whom? Our immediate neighbours get as much water as we do and are visibly far more wasteful of it, so why bother? Conserving water only makes sense if everyone works at it – if not, whatever we save is extravagantly wasted by the next person down the line.
I, of course, being a shallow and selfish person, have no problem letting the water go into my lawn. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t have to, but since we do have to, it’s as good a use of it as any.
If anyone has a better solution, I’m all ears.