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Could You Be Saving More Water?

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Trying to be water-wise? Use some of these smart strategies to slash your water consumption.

By Susannah Shmurak Posted Jul 9, 2015

Faucet
California’s ongoing drought is teaching us all what climate disruption might look like in the very near future, perhaps in our own counties and towns. A recent US Government Accountability Office study reported that water managers in 40 of 50 states were expecting water shortages in the next decade. As more of us wake up to the reality that we cannot continue to squander this precious resource, we’ve started looking for additional ways to trim our water “footprints.”

If you’re a regular Eartheasy reader, you’ve probably picked up a number of tips to cut your water use. Maybe you’ve shortened your showers, stopped running the faucet while you brush your teeth, even learned to skip the garbage disposal. Ready to take your conservation to the next level? Here are some water-saving ideas to shrink that footprint further. (Bonus: Household water has a significant carbon footprint, so reducing water use also helps reduce your contribution to greenhouse gas pollution.)

Yard Smarts

Garden hose
It’s summertime, which means our yards and gardens need watering. Outdoor watering accounts for approximately 40% of household water use, so conserving as you care for your yard can have a big impact on your water consumption.

Smart Move #1: If you have a lawn, manage it carefully.

Lawns not suited for their climates (like bluegrass or fescue in the south) can be real water hogs. Check with your local extension about the right type of grass for your region, and water it infrequently but deeply. Better still, let it go dormant if you have cool season grass that does not deal well with the heat of summer. Keep grass mowed high to help the soil retain moisture, and of course don’t water in the middle of the day or on windy days. Be sure to monitor how much water your lawn receives with a rain gauge or aluminum can: the EPA estimates that HALF (!) the water homeowners use in their yards is lost to evaporation or runs off due to overwatering. For more tips on making your lawn as environmentally-friendly as possible, check out Eartheasy’s guide to Natural Lawn Care.

Smart Move #2: Landscape for water conservation.

Consider replacing some (or all) of your lawn. In addition to the water savings, native plants adapted to your local growing conditions require little, if any, fertilizer or maintenance and provide important habitat for wildlife, including our imperiled pollinators. See our guides to lawn alternatives and low water xeriscape landscaping for more details on creating water-wise yards.

When you put in trees and edibles in place of grass, you get the added benefits of shade in summer, windbreaks in winter, and food that does not have to travel at all to get to you. (Check out this fantastic tree benefit calculator to see how these advantages add up.)

Smart Move #3: When you water your landscape, do so efficiently.

Use drip irrigation, soaker hoses and hand watering and build up your soil’s organic content with compost to help it better retain moisture. Mulching plants and trees well will likewise limit the need for watering.

Smart Move #4: Retain your rain.

Building some swales into your landscape to slow runoff can help make the most of your rainfall, while rain barrels capitalize on water that otherwise can become a liability for your town. In fact, many towns and cities offer rebates to residents who invest in rain barrels because they not only conserve local water resources, but also help your town manage storm water runoff.

Water Wisdom in Your House

Bathroom
With household conservation efforts your bathrooms should be your first priority, as they account for more than half of all indoor water use.

Smart Move #5: Give your toilet a checkup.

For the biggest water savings, start with your toilets, responsible for over a quarter of the water used in the home. By making them more efficient, you can save thousands of gallons of water each year. Replace older models with toilets that use only a fraction of the water per flush, or if that’s not in the budget right now, add filled plastic bottles, a tank bank, or an adjustable flapper to the toilet tank to allow it to flush with less volume. Also consider using one of these easy conversion kits that make any toilet dual flush, saving you an estimated 18,000 gallons per year. These upgrades pay for themselves very quickly and are quite simple to install.

Want to do even more to make your loo water-wise? Consider a composting toilet, which eliminates the need for water altogether.

Smart Move #6: Slow the flow.

Leaks are a major source of water loss in many households, so do a couple clever checks to find out if you have any. A few drops of food coloring in your toilet tank can let you know if it’s time to replace the flapper. And noting the numbers on your water meter when you leave the house and again when you return can let you know if water is flowing when you’re not actively using it. Other tools to reduce water waste: faucet aerators and low-flow showerheads which can save thousands of gallons per year.

Washing a fork

Smart Move #7: Conserve while you clean the kitchen.

Many dedicated water conservers don’t realize how much water they unnecessarily send down the drain. Surprising as it may seem, dishwashers (especially newer, more efficient ones) use significantly less water than handwashing. Newer dishwashers also don’t require you to rinse dishes before loading. To maximize efficiency, only run yours with full loads, and use the shortest cycle possible. (Extra credit: Save energy by allowing dishes to air dry.)

Smart Move #8: Save water from food prep for cleaning.

When you do run water, you don’t need to turn the tap on full to wet your hands or rinse the soap off a knife. Use a pot or a bowl to rinse vegetables rather than running water over them. When you rinse produce or pots, collect the water and use it for soaking stuck-on food from other dishes or recyclables and avoid unnecessarily washing away thousands of gallons of clean water each year. And as long as you’re using biodegradable soap (and if you’ve read this far, I assume you are!), when your rinse water’s dirty, you can give it to container plants and trees in your yard and let them benefit from all those nutrients.

Smart Move # 9: Put other recycled water to good use.

You can keep a bucket in your shower to collect the clean, cold water that usually goes down the drain while you wait for the hot water to show up. Use it for cleaning or watering plants, or even flushing the toilet. If you’re a real go-getter, look into grey water systems, which divert water from sinks, showers and laundry to your landscape.

Want to make an even bigger impact? Smart Move #10: Reduce the water footprint of your diet and your lifestyle.

Cheeseburger
While all the conservation measures above can add up to some significant savings, if you really want to reduce your water footprint, you need to take a good look at the food you eat, which accounts for approximately half of your total water use. Turns out that only a small percentage of our water use actually occurs at the tap. Up to ten times as much comes from industrial meat production, in large part from the irrigation of feed crops. So if you are looking to conserve, start by eating less meat, particularly water-intensive beef, a pound of which can take over 1800 gallons of water to produce. Everything we eat and drink took water to make, from our coffee to our bread; even fruits and vegetables have a significant water footprint. You shouldn’t drive yourself crazy choosing between apples (98 gallons per pound) and plums (261 gallons per pound), but knowing that animal products generally have a larger footprint might be further encouragement to eat a plant-based diet, which is good for you and the planet in myriad ways.

The consumer goods you buy and the energy you use make up an additional third or more of your water footprint, so buying less stuff – from electronics to clothing – and using less energy at home, at work, and for travel will also help to reduce your water footprint. Want to know more? Plug your information into this water footprint calculator to see details on the direct and indirect sources of your water consumption.

More great ideas:
25 ways to conserve water in the home and yard
Megadroughts ahead: Let’s all cut water use by 20%
7 Clever Ways to Lower Your Water Bill this Summer

References:
http://www.epa.gov/watersense/our_water/start_saving.html
http://wateruseitwisely.com/100-ways-to-conserve/?view=list
http://water.usgs.gov/edu/activity-watercontent.php
http://www2.worldwater.org/data20082009/Table19.pdf
http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/663344.pdf

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Susannah Shmurak is a dedicated conserver of resources and grower of all the edible things she can squeeze into her tiny corner lot in central Minnesota. A long-time member of her city’s Environmental Quality Commission, she is an ardent campaigner for healthier, more sustainable lifestyles. She shares practical tips about gardening, food, and low-impact living at her new blog, HealthyGreenSavvy.com.
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