Water and its future on the Aran Islands

Considering the amount, it rains in the west of Ireland every year, you’d imagine it would be one of the last places on Earth to experience a drought. However, 2020 was very different. The weather was fantastic, some might say that it was too good as the water supply on some of the Aran Islands had to be rationed.

Drought

Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands has a population of only 800 people. However, due to the water shortage on Inis Mor the residents only had access to running water between 11am-5pm daily for over a month. Inis Oirr, the smallest of the Aran Islands had to get water imported from the mainland due to the drought. Due to the water shortage on the islands, the water wasn’t considered safe for human consumption. As a result, locals had no other option but to buy bottled water. Being surrounded by water on the islands yet unable to drink it, a quote from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” comes to mind, “Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink…”

Fortunately, the island was only open to residents of the islands due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. I believe we were 17days away from the water tanks being empty even with the daily water restrictions. Considering that thousands of tourists visit the Aran Islands each day during the summer, how would the islands have coped if they were open? Some might argue that water could be brought in from the mainland in large tankers but that isn’t cost effective nor a sustainable solution.

Slip wells

Slip well on Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands.
Slip well on Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands.

Wells similar to the one pictured above have been used for decades on the Aran Islands primarily for livestock. As the rain falls on the slip, gravity causes it to gather in the well for the livestock to drink from. However, with no rainfall the wells ran dry. As the grass turned yellow, the slip wells ran dry, and with limited access to fresh water farmers began to sell their livestock due to water shortages.

Rainwater harvesting in Texas

Rainwater harvesting
Rainwater harvesting. Source: Bargin Barrel

Houston, Texas is very prone to flooding particularly after rain storms. A study that examined the surface area of the roofs of residential buildings in Houston determined that if every residential roof in Houston collected rainwater, it would account for 20% of their annual water usage. Considering that there are no household water charges in Ireland, there is no incentive to collecting the rainwater from the roofs. However, if or when water charges are introduced, rainfall collection might be one of the best ways to save a few euros especially in a country that experiences large amounts of rainfall like Ireland.

Japanese toilet sink

Japanese toilet sink
Japanese toilet sink. Source: Electrosteel group

I came across a very interesting yet very effective device for water reuse/greywater system while at the Rugby World Cup in Japan. I’m not sure what the correct name for it is but for arguments sake I’ll call it the Japanese toilet sink as that is exactly what it looks like. Generally speaking, after you do your business on the toilet you go to the sink to wash your hands. As you wash your hands in a normal sink all the waste water goes to the sewer. However, the Japanese managed to mount a sink on top of the toilet cistern, so when you flush the toilet the cistern is filled back up by the wastewater from the sink.

I think the Japanese toilet sink is a fantastic method of reusing water and conserving water. As water shortages and water conservation increases, perhaps we’ll see more of these Japanese toilet sinks throughout the rest of the world.

The hidden cost of sprinkler systems

sprinkler system
Garden sprinkler. Source: ProGreen Property Services

I only realized this past weekend the hidden cost involved with watering your garden. In Texas you are charged per cubic yard of water you use. You are also charged for the waste of that same cubic yard whether it goes down the sewer or onto the grass. Hence why rainwater collection barrels for watering the yard are so popular.

What is the most cost effective and sustainable solution to the islands water problem? Is it a desalination plant, greywater systems, more efficient water systems or simply find and fix the current water leaks?