Do you water your lawn with tap water? Do you brush your teeth while in the shower? Do you wash your car every weekend? Do you leave a bottle of water at the restaurant knowing that it is not yet empty? If your answers to these questions are ‘yes’, maybe you don’t realize that half of the world population will soon fight for clean water as the climate change and global warming will lead to water shortage. It is inevitable to talk about it now.
For centuries, Bangkok has been known as the ‘City of Water’ or ‘Venice of the East’. The altitude of Bangkok is just about 2-3 meters high above sea level, and September flooding seems to be more troublesome than do the summer draught. Thai people once used small boats as an effective mode of transportation. Of course, stories about civilization of the nation cannot be told without mentioning about Chaophraya River. This is expressed in the way Thai people built their homes in the past. Traditional Thai houses have elevated terraces and living spaces to avoid flooding. ‘Loi Kratong’ and ‘Songkran’ are very well-known festivals for foreigners. So, without plentiful water, how could we have such terrific and fanciful cultural activities that are related to water?
Still, you may not fully understand why Thailand; the country located in the tropical region where the rainy season lasts many months; needs to be concerned with water conservation. We have plenty of water and many times more than enough. The idea that water is fully renewable might be true until recently that good-quality water is scarce in almost everywhere on the planet. Having enough water doesn’t mean we can pollute it freely. Treating natural water into the level that is drinkable for human is, in some ways, not suitable for the environment, if we consider ‘chlorine’ as an alien to the natural water body. To make the matter worse, the more we use treated water, the more we discharge wastewater to the natural environment. And do you know how much foreign chemicals from bathrooms, garages, kitchens, and laundry machines we put in our wastewater? So here you understand that physically, water is renewable, but ‘natural’ water which is a vital part of the ecosystem is not!!. Once you pollute the water, you pollute the ecosystem too. There is no way to bring back natural water; no matter how hard the authority is trying to enforce the quality of discharged water in terms of the maximum BOD (i.e., Biochemical Oxygen Demand) level. As I used to say, the mother earth has reached her full capacity of cleaning our dirtiness, and wastewater treatment is one of her hard duties.
You may wonder what you can do to ‘green’ your home in terms of water conservation. There are a number of approaches. Firstly, use less water in any kinds of activities in your home. Secondly, recycle it! Thirdly, use alternative sources of water. Lastly, treat it well before discharging it to the city sewers. To use less water in your bathroom, there are plentiful models of water-conserving toilets and low-flow faucets and showerheads. The Thai Environment Institute (TEI) even has an eco-labeling system for water-conserving products known as “Thai Green Label” (http://www.tei.or.th/greenlabel). The faucet which meets the Green Label standards must have the water flow rate not exceeding 6.0 liters per minute. For a water-closet, a single flush toilet must use 6.0 liters or less of water per flushing cycle.
It is not difficult to find those Green Label products in the market. However, you may find that some of them do not look appealing at the first place. Many luxurious toilets and faucets do not have water-conserving features and that is why you do not find such products being used in grade-A residences and hotels. This needs some motivations for the public to be more responsible to the environment and for the product developers to be more concerned with their design criteria.
For your gardens, to save water is to understand how your plants need water. If you choose local plants for the landscape, you will find that the plants will survive easily in this climate without having to spend too much water to feed them. Again, some people prefer foreign plants since it looks more extraordinary than the plants you see locally everyday. Apart from proper selection of plants, you might consider using ‘drip-irrigation’ for your landscape. The system works very efficiently by slow feeding water to your plants throughout the day. This way, you can avoid losing water to evaporation and runoff.
There are hundreds of ideas on how to save water in your home either in your bathroom or in your garden, which I can not cover them all in this article. We will discuss later about them, but here at least we should be aware that water conservation plays a big part in green buildings. And that important part should not be missed.
ผศ.ดร. อรรจน์ เศรษฐบุตร
Asst. Professor Dr. Atch Sreshthaputra
Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University
Chairman of Green Building Program. The Association of Siamese Architects.