Homes that draw drinking water from the Great Lakes are wasting more than 580 billion litres a year — enough to fill 236,000 Olympic swimming pools — because they’re still using old toilets and washing machines and other water-wasting appliances, a new report says.
More than a third of the wasted water — 213 billion litres — could be saved by converting all households to high-efficiency toilets, says the report by Environmental Defence.
The amount is roughly equivalent to the annual water use of the City of Toronto.
“It’s like flushing money down the toilet while draining our rivers, lakes and wetlands,” said Mike Layton, deputy outreach director for Environmental Defence.
Goderich Mayor Deb Shewfelt said Southwestern Ontario communities are complacent about water usage because they are surrounded by the Great Lakes.
He said Goderich town council is committed to installing water meters in all homes and businesses. The move is expected to cut consumption by 20%.
“When we started talking about it years ago, people said, ‘Are you nuts? You’re beside a lake.’ But that thinking has changed,” said Shewfelt, who is also a director of the Ontario Municipal Water Association.
The report titled Down the Drain: Water Conservation in the Great Lakes Basin also cites lawn watering and leaky municipal water and sewage systems as causes of wasted water.
About 13% of the water used by Canadian municipal systems is lost through leakage and the loss can be as high as 30% in older systems, Environmental Defence says.
Shewfelt said municipalities need help from senior governments to repair and upgrade leaky water systems.
“Because it is underground, it’s not very sexy. It’s easier to build a sparkling new rec centre.”
Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley said he welcomes any report focusing on water conservation.
“Canadians don’t have a respect for water. We are still treating the Great Lakes like a toilet bowl.”
Sarnia city council recently boosted water rates by 19% and will put the revenue back into the water system, he said.
Bradley agrees water and sewage systems are often one of the first items to get cut when cities try to pare tax increases.
He said Ontario residents should get used to a user-pay system for the full cost of the water and sewage system, predicting those charges could eventually exceed property taxes.
By the numbers
162 billion: Litres saved annually by upgrading old washing machines
65 billion: Litres saved by low-flow showerheads
138 billion: Litres saved by reducing lawn watering and planting drought-resistant plants