What to do when the taps cut out

Water, water everywhere - but not a drop to drink. Considering all that we've experienced in the Klang Valley over the last few months, that saying really does make me think.

I mean, we've all seen our fair share of planned and unplanned water disruptions over the last two months; disruptions that began in the run-up to Christmas when National Water Services Commission (SPAN) chief executive officer Datuk Mohd Ridhuan Ismail said in a statement that round 3,892,641 water users in the Klang Valley will be affected by a scheduled water disruption on Dec 19.

The disruption ultimately came when the Sungai Selangor water treatment plants ceased operations due to preventive maintenance works conducted by Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) at the Bukit Sadong substation.

Many people were outraged after finding out that TNB had planned the scheduled works since September and Dec 19 after a meeting with representatives from the water sector, including Syarikat Pengeluar Air Sungai Selangor Sdn Bhd (Splash).

Indeed, many called for the powers-that-be to be more sensitive about the timing of the scheduled maintenance, and some took the opportunity to point out that this wasn't the first water cut to affect their area.

It certainly wasn't the first water cut to affect me, and it definitely wasn't the last as my area in Petaling Jaya was hit by a three-day water cut that began on Jan 9 due to a burst main pipe near the Pantai Complex Reservoir in Kuala Lumpur.

At this point - after three days without water and two days of Dettol-laced sponge baths - I couldn't help but wonder how we can all do our bit to save water and make the most of our buckets and water tanks.

We have to do it, because it looks like it's up to us now. It's clear that we can't truly depend on the utilities and the people managing them to keep our pipes wet and the water flowing.

So, with this in mind, how can we conserve water? How can we make the most of our seemingly limited supply?

I did some research and I found some suggestions that could be worth following, such as those proposed by the Eden Project in the United Kingdom. The educational charity began by suggesting at http://www.edenproject.com/learn/for-everyone/water-saving-tips that we turn off the tap when you brush your teeth as this can save 6 litres of water per minute.

It also suggested that we take shorter showers as a shower can use anything between six and 45 litres per minute. Both of these suggestions struck me as practical ways to stretch the water in the tanks above our homes.

The Eden Project also suggested that we place a cistern displacement device in the tanks above our toilet bowls to reduce the amount of water used in each flush, and it moved on to the garden to suggest that we water our garden with a watering can rather than a hosepipe as a hosepipe uses 1,000 litres of water an hour.

Additionally, we can also consider mulching our plants with bark chippings, heavy compost or straw and watering in the early morning and late afternoon as this will reduce evaporation and also save water.

Aside from this, I also found tips from the New York-based Grace Communication Foundation.

The Foundation, which develops "innovative strategies to increase public awareness of the critical environmental and public health issues created by our current food, water and energy systems", began by suggesting on their website, www.gracelinks.org that we catch warming-up water by putting a bucket in the shower as we wait for the water to warm up, and then using that water for cleaning or watering plants.

Another bathroom tip suggested is for us to install low-flow shower heads, as these can reduce our water usage from 19 litres a minute to approximately 9.5 litres a minute.

It also suggested that we throw tissues and bathroom waste into a rubbish bin instead of flushing them away, reasoning that this would save water in the process and that we can also recycle kitchen water by keeping a bucket or pitcher in your kitchen to collect leftover drinking water, water used to rinse vegetables and to boil food as this water can then be used to water plants in our gardens.

After all, while TNB and the water treatment companies have promised to find ways to prevent a repeat of lengthy water supply disruptions when electrical substations are shut down for urgent maintenance work - can we really trust them to not kill our flow, especially around our festive seasons? They might have made their promises, but it's all talk until they back their words with actions.

Add to that the seemingly-common unplanned disruptions due to burst pipes and the like, it is clear that the time has come for us to do our bit while also remembering to keep our buckets closed to prevent Aedes mosquitoes and other nasty bugs from using our water supply as their breeding grounds.

In short, let's start saving water and start taking the steps to rely on people we can depend on - ourselves!


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