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July 16, 2009

Keep Your Toilet Running Efficiently

Keep Your Toilet Running EfficientlyWater waste is one of the hugest green issues out there. There’s only so much water in the world, and much of it is continually being polluted or drained away without a second thought.

One very specific way to green your home is to conserve water being otherwise wasted by your toilet. Staying on top of these four toilet inefficiencies will help keep perfectly adequate water from slipping away unnoticed:

1. Watch for Water Leaks
You probably think it would be obvious if your toilet was leaking water, but that’s not necessarily so. Just because your not wading through water every time you enter the bathroom doesn’t mean there’s not a leak.

If your tank ball or overflow is worn, or if your toilet has a defective valve you might notice the sound of running water, but there’s a good chance your water leak will remain silent.

You can discover whether a leak exists by putting food coloring or dye tablets into the septic tank. If after a few minutes color is present in the toilet bowl, you do indeed have a leak.

2. Don't Discount Air Leaks
A leaky wax ring could be wasting gallons of water each year, and not because of water leaks, but because of air leaks. When air is leaking out of your wax ring, the siphon will not work properly, which will lead to extra flushes and clogged pipes. If you've increased the water level in your septic to account for your toilet's lack of gusto, that is also a big water-waster.

You probably have a leaky seal if your toilet isn't securely fastened to the floor. You also might notice that your toilet rocks or your toilet's hold-down bolts are corroded and/or loose.

If you're the least bit handy, you can probably replace your toilet's wax ring with a little bit of time and elbow-grease.

3. Replace Worn Parts
As with any fixture in your home, your toilet won't last forever. But before you start looking into toilet recycling centers, consider how old it actually is. Your toilet will probably work fine for decades (though more efficient models are likely to be designed before it stops working all together), but its parts will need to be maintained and even replaced while you keep it around.

Did you know, for example, that your flapper valve (also known as a 'flush valve ball' or 'tank stopper') should be replaced every three to five years? Keep on top of your toilet's parts, especially those that look worn or damaged, and you'll save money and water.

4. Displace Extra Water
At this point, you may be thinking that if your toilet has perfectly functioning parts and isn't leaking, it can't conserve water any more than it already is. Though toilets are better designed in today's world, the average fixture uses anywhere from 1.5 to 7 gallons of water per flush!

Your toilet may or may not be on the low end of this estimate, so a good way to find out is to employ the tank displacement water saving method. Displace water in your cistern and see how your toilet works for a few days.

If the flushes are still powerful enough to keep your bowl clean, then you've found yet another way to reduce your water usage.

How Far Would You Go to Save Water?

How Far Would You Go to Save Water?Water shortages across the US have prompted me to re-examine the water usage in my own home. My findings? While we are doing a lot of things right (low-flow showerhead, utilizing grey water, no lawn watering, etc.) there are still a lot of things that we could be doing to save water and money.

Of particular concern to me is the amount of water that our toilets are using. Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to cut that number (and I'm not just talking about the "if it's yellow, let it mellow" rule or the brick in the back of the toilet trick. Check out some of these modern solutions to the water waste problem:

Low-Flow Toilet
Uses 1.6 gallons per flush instead of as many as 7
Dual-Flush Toilet
Allows you to choose between a 1.6 gallon flush and a .8 gallon flush
Flushless Toilet
Uses no water; waste is composted in a holding tank
The Frugal Flush Flapper
Cuts the water use in high volume toilets (3.6 gallon and above) in half. Only costs $5
Fill Cycle Diverter
Saves a half gallon per flush by ensuring that the tank and bowl fill at the same (or close to the same) rate

So, I have to ask, how far are you willing to go to save water and ultimately your hard earned dollars? Could you go flushless? Dual flush? Are you already using some of the technology that I mentioned? Share your answer!

July 9, 2009

New Forests Feed Families

New Forests Feed Families
For $25 you can plant a forest and feed a family.
Sustainable Harvest International provides struggling families in Central America with the technical assistance and materials they need to plant a variety of trees together with other crops such as coffee, cocoa, bananas, vanilla and ginger in an integrated system that provides food and income while protecting the environment. You can support a family's ongoing participation in the SHI program by clicking here and making a donation of $25 per month. If you would like to know more, keep reading.

The Problem: The world's tropical forests are being lost at an alarming rate, largely due to agricultural expansion. This loss is resulting in the extinction of native plant and animal species, a net increase in greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change, increased soil erosion, drought and flooding. This environmental degradation forces farmers to clear even more land to grow food for their families.
The Solution: Sustainable Harvest International
A $25 donation to SHI provides a family with the training, tools and support to plant 100 trees!
Founded in 1997 by Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Florence Reed, Sustainable Harvest International (SHI) addresses the tropical deforestation crisis by providing farmers withsustainable alternatives to slash-and-burnagriculture. SHI facilitates long-term collaboration among trained local staff, farmers and communities to implement sustainable land-use practices that alleviate poverty by restoring ecological stability.
SHI works with local farmers, cooperatives, environmental organizations and indigenous groups that invite us into their communities. We provide these groups with long-term assistance adopting sustainable land-use practices such as reforestation, agro-forestry and organic farming. These practices allow rural people to raise their standard of living while planting trees, rather than clearing forest.
The more than 1,100 families working with SHI have planted more than two million trees and converted thousands of acres of degraded land to sustainable land-use practices, thereby saving tens of thousands of acres of tropical forest from slash-and-burn farming. Participating families enjoy increased income (up to 800%) from alternative cash crops as well as better health due to greater and more varied food crop production.
Rather than contributing to rainforest destruction, SHI participants are preserving forests and planting trees on degraded land. They are taking control of their environmental and economic destinies.
The vital work of Sustainable Harvest International must continue. Although SHI has accomplished a great deal, more remains to be done.
SHI constantly receives requests from new families, communities and organizations in other countries asking us to help them make their hope for a sustainable future a reality. We would love to help them, but we need increased financial support to make their dreams a reality.
Sustainable Harvest International's success has been made possible by a growing number of friends around the world who provide the funding to carry out our work. In order to keep our commitments to our existing participants and to reach new ones, however, Sustainable Harvest International urgently needs new financial support.
Working with SHI, you can change a desert into an oasis and hunger into plenty. I hope you will accept my offer to help create sustainable forests, food and income for some of the world's most economically disadvantaged people.
Click here to set up a monthly donation of $25 to provide ongoing support for our work with one family. Of course any donation, be it monthly or one time, is greatly appreciated and makes a very positive change in the world.

July 4, 2009

Water problems in India

Water problems in IndiaI heard the squelch of Anil’s feet on the waterlogged path well before he arrived at the door of my hut.

“Problem with boat,” he announced in a very matter-of-fact way.

“Problem?” I asked groggily, having just emerged from under my thick mosquito net.

“Yes,” he replied. “Boat sank. You want tea?”

All night the heavy rain had pounded our huts. It came in intense waves, the wind rattling doors and window frames, and by morning the village was sitting in a mud soup, the bloated river lapping high against protective dirt walls.

Our small boat had been among several moored in what the night before had been a protected inlet, and several young boys were now working with old pans and leaking buckets to bail them out and pull them further up the receding river bank. They chatted and laughed, slipping and falling in the mud. But with the rain still falling it seemed like a hopeless task.

For Anil, our taciturn Bengali host – a man who could coolly describe the latest cobra attacks or the tiger tracks he’d found in the village – the tropical storm sweeping from the Bay of Bengal was little more than an annoyance.

Within two hours he’d rustled up a bigger boat – “this one will make it,” he told us in an attempt to reassure - and the mud-splattered NBC team, guided by the helping hands of scores of amused villagers, was soon making its way gingerly across a thin plank and onboard the bobbing vessel for the five-hour river and road journey back to Calcutta.

The village in which we’d spent the night was on a small island in the Sundarbans, which lie at the mouth of the River Ganges, where India’s most revered river empties into the Bay of Bengal.

The monsoon rains here are intense, and being caught in the middle of it does leave you wondering how India could possibly have a water shortage.

When it rains here it rains big time – and that’s part of the problem. On average it rains for only one hundred hours a year, according to Sunita Narain, who heads the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment. It is often accompanied by devastating floods, but the monsoon runoff is frequently contaminated, there is little harvesting or water management, and the rain is insufficient to adequately recharge groundwater levels, which are receding alarmingly across large parts of India.

“It is one issue that will make or break India,” Narain told us. “If we can get our water management right we will be a prosperous country, which will have well being for all. But if we get our water management wrong, which we are getting today, then let us be very clear, all the riches in the world are not going to be enough.”

Close to where we had boarded our (sunken) boat to the Sundarbans, we had witnessed what looked like a tug-of-war contest. There was a party-like atmosphere as men and boys yelled and shouted, egging each other on, as they pulled on a rope.

But it turned out they were digging for clean water, first pulling out old pipes before boring more deeply into the ground. They explained that they have to go deeper because the water had become contaminated by salt.

In this part of India it really is a case of water, water everywhere, but nothing to drink.

In Varanasi, a city holy to Hindus, which sits higher up the Ganges, the main problem is sewage, which is killing the river, India’s lifeline. Nearly half a billion people live in the Ganges basin and depend on it for fresh water.

“It’s murky, it’s brown, it stinks,” said Veer Bhadra Mishra, who leads a foundation trying to clean it up. He’s a Hindu priest as well as a trained engineer, and each morning joins the thousands of Hindu faithful bathing in the river’s sacred waters.

“If poison is mixed into this water at one point we will die and that will be the end of this culture related to the river, and that will be the end of this river,” he told us.

We traveled on the river with a team he sends out each morning to test the Ganges poisonous cocktail, in support of a law suite to force action from a government that’s promised much but delivered little.

Other priests have threatened to drown themselves in the river unless it is cleaned up.

Recent water show the water pollution levels at Varanasi to be two hundred times safe levels for drinking and thirty thousand times safe levels for drinking.

In villages around Varanasi, wells are closed, pumps chained to prevent people drinking dirty water. Villagers here are also forced to go deeper for clean water. But new hand pumps, recently installed, have tapped another scourge – naturally occurring arsenic, according to Benares University researchers.

Prolonged exposure to arsenic can cause kidney and liver damage – even cancer. Water-born diseases are already the biggest health issue.

Only richer farmers are able afford powerful electric pumps to such water from ever deeper in the receding aquifer. They will supply others – but only at a price. And in some parts of India the groundwater is literally being sucked dry.

Right across India, there is mounting pressure on dwindling supplies of fresh water, and conflicts over access to water have even provoked riots in some areas.

India’s rapid economic growth has also intensified the competition for water, and even in the capital Delhi more and more people are depending on tankers for their drinking water.

“We don't have drinking water. We have children, we have families and we can't do anything without water. So we have a big problem,” one frustrated woman told us as she waited for a tanker in a poor suburb of Delhi.

For Sunita Narain it is perhaps the most critical challenge facing her country.

“India just has to get its act together,” she told us. “I cannot sound any more desperate than this. It has to get its act together knowing that it has no other choice. It has to get it right."

By Ian Williams, NBC News correspondent