Fallen in love with sea swimming? Here’s how to give something back
Spend it Better: A water butt to harvest rainwater can help keep our seas clean
If the sea has saved you, or even if it hasn’t, think about saving rainwater. Photograph: Getty Images
So many beautiful words have been written about the sanctuary of the sea. Its capable icy grip has lifted us out of our sadness. It’s been the only way many of us have been able to leave the island, regular jolts out of the slump to be delivered back to shore raw-skinned and ready again. We owe the waves a debt of gratitude.
Sadly, what we give them are regular sluicings of filth, intestinal enterococci and e-coli in dangerously high concentrations when the red ink appears on the water quality readouts. It’s grimly predictable. Heavy rainfall overloads sewage treatment systems. Storm tanks flood and a soup of rain water, grey water and sewage, or black water, is sluiced out. Dublin Bay is a biosphere full of marine life, not just the often-spotted Homo Dryrobius. And it takes delivery of up to 20 of these (and there is no better word for it) shitstorms a year.
Not so beautiful.
Ringsend Waste Water Treatment Plant is undergoing expansion. A big structural fix is needed. But there is something grateful sea swimmers, beach walkers and anyone who loves the sea can do to help. Get off our butts and get a butt: lots of them, big ones, small ones, repurposed ones. Rainwater is the easiest of the three elements for us as individuals to take out of the mix. Attaching a rain butt to a downpipe doesn’t require a plumber. Our small one was €50. By installing it we’ve removed a modest amount of the problem, a drop in the ocean. But if many thousands of us each took their own drops out of the bucket then we have a meanwhile fix that could make a real difference.
Rainwater harvesting has to go mainstream, become a standard part of how we build and plumb homes. This would leave wastewater treatment plants to focus on the biggest problem. And we can get more ambitious again. Valuing water at every step could keep the sea cleaner and lower the costs of water consumption.
It is not expensive or complicated to plumb buildings to capture grey water (from washing machines and showers) to be used for flushing toilets or watering gardens. The green building fraternity talk of net-zero water where buildings use 100 per cent captured rainwater in a closed loop and purify waste water without the use of chemicals. Reed bed systems are one way of turning a problem into a resource, as the actor Patricia Arquette says with relish in the Netflix documentary Kiss the Ground there are many ways to “keep the poop in the loop”. In the meantime if the sea has saved you, or even if it hasn’t, think about saving rainwater. It’s what any islander who loves sparkling clean seawater would do to help.