What Spain Can Teach Us About Water Conservation

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With California facing severe drought, it’s time to have a serious chat about water. Spain can teach us a lot about water conservation (and the art of dance).


Beneath Spain’s rich cultural tapestry (and mouth-watering cuisine) lies a troubled past. When reservoirs dried up across Spain in the early ‘90s, the country’s problems became complex. With a major economic crisis to follow in coming years, Spain would see its fair share of struggles. According to The Guardian,

 . . . The number of forest fires soared, crops whittled, and more than 11 million Spaniards faced water shortages. . . . The five-year drought—the worst on record in the last century—ranked among the country’s worst natural disasters . . .

How Spain saved precious H2O

Despite having one of the world’s highest rates of water consumption per capita (with limited access to freshwater) Spain dropped domestic water consumption by 27 percent between 1997 and 2008. Bravo, Spain!

How did they do it? Simple:

  • First, they launched a widespread media campaign to get the public’s buy-in. One by one, 30,000 residents of Zaragoza pledged to reduce their water consumption.
  • A few water-saving experiments were conducted with a fish vendor, swimming pool, and a hospital.
  • Finally, a guidebook explaining how residents could save water was created and distributed.

Zargoza in Spain; an old world city with forward thinking new world ideas about water conservation. (image: Paulo Brandao)

Make like the Spaniards

When faced with severe drought, there’s no question that the government needs to step in to handle agricultural concerns and keep water-guzzling companies in check. But we need to do our part too.

It’s time we started seeing water for what it really is—not a never-ending luxury that spews from our taps like wizardry, but a precious resource to be used with care.

Here are few easy ways to save water.

1. Clean up smarter

Instead of running the dishwasher half full, wait for a few more dishes to pile up. (It won’t take long.) Like a game of Tetris, make sure you stack everything just right so it washes in one go. You could make a game of it. The same goes for laundry. The world won’t end if those three towels aren’t washed right—this—second. Wait a day or so, then fill that baby right up!

2. Go low-flow

Installing low-flow shower heads and toilets can save heaps of water. To save even more water, stop using your toilet as a wastebasket. Instead of flushing items like Kleenex, baby wipes, and wet wipes, toss ’em in the garbage instead. You can practice your three-point shot at the same time. (Move aside, Kobe Bryant.)

According to EcoWatch, flushing sanitary wipes can cause sewer backups and problems in sewer processing plants. (With an overflowing toilet, you won’t exactly be winning at water conservation.)

flush the toilet

3. Take shorter showers

When our hot water tank blew a few weeks ago, we used pots and pans and boiled water to shower, for four—whole—days. It was a sobering experience, and a far cry from my usual luxurious showers.

As I was using a roasting pan to bathe (yes, a roasting pan),  I realized a few things:

1. I really appreciate access to hot water—any water—a luxury many people don’t have.
2. It’s surprising how little water you actually need to take a shower.

To cut down on water wastage, turn off the faucet while you shave, and turn it back on when you’re ready to rinse. (The same goes for brushing your teeth.) Cut down your shower time by five minutes. If you take baths, fill the tub halfway instead. Questioning our everyday habits is a good thing, and little changes make a big impact.

4. Make every drop count

When you change your pet’s water dish, don’t dump the old water down the drain—use it to water your thirsty plants. If you brewed too much water for your coffee or tea, don’t pour it down the drain—boil it again the next day. (Boiling kills lingering bacteria, so you’re good.)

Over to you

We’re not living out a scene of Mad Max just yet, but is that where we’re headed? All doomsday scenarios aside, no one wants to live in a world where water is the next oil. (Except bottled water companies.)

How will you do your part? Be sure to share your water-saving tips in the comments section.

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Tanya Roberts

Tanya Roberts is a writer and marketer who loves to spin stories about interior design and home decor. She is principle strategist at Bluefinch.ca