I try to conserve water, but I’ve never taken it as seriously as environmental bloggers Jeff McIntire-Strasburg of Sustainablog and Becky Striepe of Eat Drink Better did for one day recently. Both of them took the DigDeep 4Liters Challenge and limited their water use to four liters, 16 cups, of water for a day. Their efforts make my turning the faucet off while I’m brushing my teeth and saving my pasta water to water plants seem very small.

The challenge is to use just four liters of water for 24 hours for everything you do. EVERYTHING – drinking, bathing, cleaning, cooking and more. The average American uses over 100 gallons a day, so 4 liters is a huge challenge. While you’re at it, you can raise a little money for the cause by having others donate and ask others to take the challenge. Jeff took the challenge first and challenged Becky to do the same.

I asked Jeff and Becky to tell me about their experiences, and they had some eye opening moments (usually every time they absent-mindedly went to turn on a faucet).

MNN: Why did you want to take this challenge?

Jeff: I wanted to support DigDeep (I met founder George McGowan this summer), and I wanted to see if I could really do this.

Becky: Jeff challenged me after he completed his own 4Liter Challenge. I t took me over a week to do it on my own. I was so nervous about it!

Did everyone in your home participate?

Jeff: No, just me. I played with that in my videos - the rest of the family getting fed up with my enthusiastic participation. (Jeff recorded three videos during his water-rationing day.)

Becky: No. I flew solo. My son is a year and a half, and I didn’t want to limit his water. I totally forgot to ask my husband to participate with me, so he got a free pass.

What was the hardest part?

Jeff: Not turning on the water – it’s amazing how thoughtlessly we do that.

Becky: I think it was a tie between wanting desperately to wash my hands and to do the dishes.

Was any part of it unexpectedly easy?

Jeff: Not showering… but I have days when I don’t do that anyway.

Becky: I really can’t think of any part that was easier than I thought it would be. If anything, parts of the challenge surprised me with how difficult they were. I know I keep mentioning hand washing, but I think that’s something that we really take for granted.

How is the 4 liters of water that you used different than the 4 liters of water that people in the developing would have?

Jeff: It’s definitely clean and uncontaminated – no such guarantees in the developing world.

Becky: Hmmm. This seems like the point at which I tell you that I feel like I cheated. I was ever so slightly under my water use for the day, but I also did zero dishes. I let them pile up in the sink and rand the dishwasher the net morning. For people in developing countries, the challenge doesn’t end. I also had a couple of glasses of wine and many cups of coffee and counted those as water. I’m pretty sure that was not an authentic part of the experience.

What did you lean?

Jeff: That I take access to as much clean water as I want completely for granted (which is kind of frightening given the state of world eater supplies).

Becky: Reaching for the tap is way more ingrained than I anticipated. I can’t tell you how many times I stopped myself from turning on the water. We flick the faucet on without even thinking about it. Every time I did, I felt spoiled. And rightly so, I think.

How have you changed your water habits since the challenge?

Jeff: I’m definitely more mindful of how I use water. I take care not to waste (or not waste as much).

Becky: I’m a lot more mindful of whether I really need to use water for cleaning and washing. Do I need to rinse my hands so much, or could I just wipe them on a clean towel? Can I wipe down this pan with less water?

Would recommend this challenge to others?

Jeff: Definitely. It’s not only a great cause, but all funds raised go directly to water projects – DigDeep’s operations are all funded by large-scale contributors, It definitely wakes you up to your own water use and waste, which we don’t think about – even us greenies!

Becky: Definitely. It was a hard day, especially with a toddler to care for. But, it gave me so much perspective. Even beyond how lucky I am to have ready access to running water. I think putting ourselves in other people’s shoes is an important exercise. We can learn so much. The 4Liters Challenge was tough, but it was eye-opening and gratifying, too.

One thing I thought about as I read over Jeff and Becky’s answers was that neither of them mentioned the ease with which they could get the water. Although they had to resist the tap, the tap was right there to get access to the 4 liters they were able to use for the day. In the developing world, some people need to travel miles each day to get water that’s suitable for drinking. We truly are lucky to have water at our fingertips. 

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.