Norway has seen some record temperatures and a long dry spell. This is especially true in the Oppland area, where we are house sitting for several months. We were told that it is sunnier and drier than the coast which gets 220 days of rain a year.
We might have been told that the house pulls its water from a well, but like most people who are accustomed to abundant water, this seemed like a mere abstraction. It's like telling me there is a war in Syria. Do I know that this is happening? Yes. Do I know what it's like to have a bomb fall on my house and kill my whole family? No.
So it was some surprise when a neighbor rang the doorbell and told us we needed to take drastic measures to conserve water - immediately.
It's not like we were filling up a kiddy pool and running a sprinkler all day, or running a load of laundry with one tea towel. Or even washing the car. We aren't those kinds of people.
What kinds of people are we? The kind that runs the water to let it get hot before showering and washing our hands and dirty dishes. The kind that likes to wash our floors. The kind that would change the sheets every week. The kind that would take a hot shower. We were like most people. We were no doubt like you.
All of this changed. Here is what we learned. And here is the full story of how (and why) we learned to conserve water in Norway in the first place.
1. Military Style Shower. This one saves a ton of water. That and not showering at all, of course. What is a military shower? It’s where you turn on the water just enough to get wet and then turning it off again. Then you soap up and then turn on the water to rinse yourself. It’s really simple and saves tons of water. I’ve been showering like this for a few weeks now, and I’m not sure I would go back again.
2. Eliminate Running Water. One of the biggest surprises for me is how much water we waste while letting water get hot – either in the shower or in the kitchen. One way around this is to simply place a bottle under the spout while you wait for the water to get hot. I did this but had to get new bottles to hold it all. It was easily more than a liter of water that would have gone down the drain every time I waited for the water to get hot. The water you save can be used for anything – drinking, washing, cooking. We found it best to heat the water we needed for washing on the stove. That way we weren’t staring at a hundred bottles of water waiting for various things.
3. Buckets! A bucket in the shower was the best way to capture water while we waited for it to heat up. We placed a bucket at our feet while showering and were pretty amazed at how much water fell into it. It was totally enough to water the tomato plants every day. The water we use to rinse our dishes is also captured for similar purposes, but you have to make sure it’s not too soapy.
4. Hand Washing. This may freak out many of the germaphobes out there, but for the majority of your day you can use hand sanitizer to clean your hands. Only wash your hands with soapy water when you absolutely have to.
5. Dish Washing. This one is tough. People had recommended using paper plates, especially if you are in a place where you can use those plates to start fires for cooking/heating. Or if you can recycle them. But to us, this is just causing another problem. Our solution is to heat up a pot of water for washing, use the minimum of water for rinsing and capturing that grey water with a large cup or bowl. We use the water from that to rinse the flatware.
6. Laundry. Postpone doing your laundry as much as possible. This means wearing the same clothes multiple times. If they need a refresher, it’s recommended to spritz them with a vinegar solution and hang them out to dry in the sun. This is remarkably effective, and the odor isn’t as repulsive as it may sound.
7. The Toilet. Everybody knows the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” which is a gross and crude way of saying that you shouldn’t flush every time you pee. Even the most modern and efficient toilets use over a gallon per flush. Older toilets waste between 3-7 gallons per flush. And when you are facing a water crisis, even a gallon of water per flush seems extravagant.
I was recently at a coffee shop and asked for a glass of water. The barista asked if I wanted an entire carafe of water and I said no. As is the case when you don't speak the native language of the country you are visiting, she pulled the carafe from the shelf and started to run the water. She tested it with her finger to see if it was a good temperature and then adjusted it a bit and tested again. She filled the carafe with water and then emptied it (perhaps to get any dust out) and then filled it for me.
I wasn't agast or anything, but found it interesting that I noticed these details and thought about how I would have done the same in the past. But I don't think I could go back again.
I wonder if it will take large populations of people coming face to face with a shortage to make any significant changes in behavior. Historically speaking this seems to be the case. The sad truth is that it's easier to prevent a disaster than to live through one.