Fusebox EPFL

Is water an unlimited resource?

   Even if it has not yet crossed any critical limit and people are using it as a continuous, unlimited resource, the sustainability of water has to be taken into account before the situation becomes critical.  It is important to prevent the extinction of non-renewable resources before we are forced to react as we have with coal and oil.

   Nature already does this by its ability to adapt and respect the rules imposed by its specific ecosystems. For people this is a hard pattern to follow, because we usually don`t like to be bounded or limited in our actions.

  According to the water.usgs.gov/edu/sq3.html website a person consumes up to 50.3 gallons/day, meaning around 190 liters/day just for usual activities like 5 glasses of drinking water,  2 teeth brushings, one 10 minute shower, 3 dishwashings by hand and 3 toilet flushes.

 My idea to reduce this daily water consumption comes in 2 steps, both trying to mimic and being inspired by nature.

  The first step consists in making people believe they consume the same amount of water while  they consume less. The idea stems from fluid kinetics through turbulence that appears in water and birds ability to overcome the turbulence in flight through the arrangement of their feathers.

   Inspired by birds` anti-turbulence system, we can create a new one, made out of a specific arrangement of metal stripes that instead of being anti-turbulence, are pro-turbulence. In this way we can create the impression of a larger amount of used water. This solution can be economically safe because it may consist only in changing the shower nozzle.

   The second step consists in using rain for housekeeping water consumption. The water collection can be done through a network mimicking the roots of a tree starting from the top of a building and going down to the ground floor. Each apartment can be equipped with its own rain reservoir and use it independently of others.

   By using the principle of tree`s roots or the tree itself (example: Baobab tree) collection we can manage the problem implying building`s internal structure and remove the challenge in pumping water upwards.


  These two steps can be considered as small measures towards self regulation of water consumption according to ambient conditions. This would complement the homeostatic balance that water achieves as it cycles from our clouds to our oceans.

Michka Mélo Nov 18, 2014

Hi, and thank you for your idea. Water management is indeed a big challenge.

Interesting non-trivial bio-inspiration ideas from birds feathers to turbulence generation. However, economic shower nozzles are not new. How would your design be different / better than the existing ones ?

Your second idea is interesting too. How would you install such a system in an existing building ? Do you see a way of doing it without having to re-think the whole building ?

You may also now that the use of water in housing is strongly regulated by law. Do you know if you can legally feed an appartment with rain water ? How will you make sure that people will not poison themselves by drinking it ? Unless you plan to treat it ? How ?

Thank you in advance for your answers.

Monica CHIOSA Nov 18, 2014

Hi and thank you for these questions.

      1. I have seen that some economic nozzles use either small holes or insertion of air principle to increase the speed. For the idea I proposed I thought that by having a turbulence flow, with multiple directions, the distribution of water at the skin level will be better than with a laminate flow.

In this way human will perceive water in a different manner, the one of fullness.

       2. Regarding the second idea I will suggest that

-for old buildings, a part of the space that exists in the ventilation system from the bathroom can be used as location for the pipes of the new network and rainwater can be kept in small reservoirs placed also in the bathroom;

- for new buildings, the pipes` network can be included in the building`s structure without affecting its stability;

       3. The rainwater has been kept in tanks for several years and I don`t think it should imply so many legally issues to start feeding the apartments with this kind of system.

Regarding the problem imposed by poison, I think that on the roof of the building a microalgae culture can be created in order to clean the rainwater. These unicellular species have already been used in wastewater treatments and their ability to grow only by consuming inorganic nitrogen and phosphorus makes them a good aspirant to the rainwater`s cleaning. Later on the microalgae culture can also be used as valuable biomass.

Also for the beginning we can consider using rainwater only for shower and toilet.

Daniel RODARY Nov 18, 2014


Agreed, water consumption is a challenge well before water is getting to a critical situation. In France man recently died in event linked to a dam being built to serve agriculture systems with high water requirements... 

On first idea, I have the same comment as Michka : the inspiration is interesting (bird feathers) but how reach better results than current shower or tape nozzles?

On the second idea, things that come to my mind are that

1- in a tree, all the networks are inverted compared to what you plan : the roots are down, and water is flowing up (with evaporation through the leaves as one main driving force) : so how would you tackle this?


2-Storing the water on the roof may cause problems as highlighted by Michla above.

Two ideas to digg this further:

A-look at the opposite flow system (sap flowing FROM the leave, downards to the trunk and roots), as this one is in the same direction in the tree and in your system

B-Store the water under the building, and raise it to the appartments on demand, with a system inspired by the upgoing water in trees as exposed in your idea.


Monica CHIOSA Nov 18, 2014

Hello Daniel,

    My initial assumption was that the shape of the system resembles that of an inverse tree. As I also stated above, the creation of a microalgae culture will demand a very small height pool on the roof of the building. By having an uniform distribution of the weight on the roof should not affect the stability of the building.     

   I would consider the storage system proposed in point B. This system was also proposed by Gaudi in Park Guel.

Best regards,

Chloé Lequette Nov 21, 2014


I'm sure that the water is a very good topic and I like that you have thought about the feelings of the people. Take a look at the results of the last challenge of Biomimicry 3.8:


Maybe I'm going off on the tangent, but I was thinking of that in our cities the rain water can not fill the groundwater and can not be filtered by the soil because of non-permeable roads. In a way it's a kind of waste.

Arndt Pechstein Nov 23, 2014

Regarding the first part of you idea I agree with some notes others have made earlier regarding shower heads. Besides that, the water that comes out of the nozzles of current shower heads does already have a turbulent (and thus non-laminar) flow.

For your second part of the idea maybe you want to team up with Laura who suggested water provision in buildings through tree meachisms in her "Plumbing Trees" challenge to collectively find an inspiring solution.

Alicia Gayout Dec 1, 2014

Hi Monica,

Congratulations on behalf of the experts and the moderators, your idea made it to the Top 7 !

Water is definitely a huge challenge worth tackling as soon as possible. However, both your ideas need to be further differentiated from existing devices: where could passive water-saving devices (such as the nozzle you mention) be used too? The idea of the tree may be very similar to the one of Laura if it is about pumping - we advise you to team up with her, or to deepen the concept of rainwater collection using Nature-inspired devices.

Good luck - we invite all Fusebox participants to help you refine your ideas!