Water is becoming more and more of a commodity. It is estimated that by 2025, two thirds of the world’s population will face severe water shortages. For city-dwelling Canadians, the staggering situation might be difficult to comprehend as we expect our taps to deliver clean, drinking water. The average Canadian uses 329 litres of water each day, and 30 per cent of this large amount is water used for our toilets.

As you may have noticed, the toilet water in Maanjiwe Nendamowinan (MN) is murky yellow in colour. You also might have heard comments about the water being “dirty” or “gross.” The Medium sat down with Chelsea Dalton, the Environmental/Sustainability Coordinator of Facilities Management & Planning at UTM, to learn how the reclaimed water system works and why the water is not clear.

Dalton explains that the water in the MN toilets is “reclaimed” which essentially means that is rainwater. It falls onto the roofs of campus buildings and trickles down the roof drain. Normally, that water would go straight to the storm sewer. Instead, that water is directed to an underground storage tank where it is used for irrigation and the toilets in Deerfield Hall, the Health Sciences Complex, and MN. Deerfield Hall also utilizes a reclaimed water system to irrigate its green roof.

As for the colour of the water, Dalton explains that rainwater is not perfectly clear. When it falls on the buildings, it can pick up debris and dirt. While the water goes through a filter so that large particles can be removed, it can still retain the colour of whatever it came into contact with.

On the surface, using reclaimed water seems like the perfect solution to household water wastage. However, while installing the system into a new building has a mild upfront cost and requires relatively low maintenance, retrofitting old buildings is expensive and “simply not feasible.” Poor planning and a lack of understanding of the climate crisis are a few of the reasons why older buildings have been constructed without this environmentally friendly technology. The Sustainability Office’s philosophy is to “build buildings right the first time” so that water— and costs—can be conserved in the future.

Dalton says that the UTM campus ensures that all of its new buildings are built to satisfy LEED silver status requirements at the very least. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is an organization which awards points to buildings based on their sustainability. For example, points are awarded if a building uses 25 per cent less water than conventional buildings, has a green roof, or was not built over a green field. As Dalton points out, studies show that LEED-certified buildings house happier and more productive workers who take fewer sick days off.

While the reclaimed toilet water in MN may appear “dirty,” it is reducing the amount of clean water we use every day. People living in water-sparse communities recognize the value and significance of water, making sure not a drop goes to waste. Even though we don’t live in such conditions, perhaps we should do the same.

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