Water Conservation in the Home
I watched rainwater racing down the gutters in our city streets the other day, and was furious at the thought of all that water wasted. Where I live in Southern California we are in a drought. Humans and the earth both need water, so why do we throw so much freshwater away and then complain that we don't have enough?
Then I started looking at the extent of the waste and noticed that we throw away excess irrigation water the same way, sending runoff down the sidewalks into the street gutters, out to the storm drains and on down to the ocean. Irrigation water comes from our groundwater, the aquifer, our long-term underground natural storage tank. We are sucking out the aquifer and throwing away what we don't want, while blocking its replacement with hard-surface cities. We are draining the earth of its long term storage. This cannot continue.
Why should we use water more efficiently?
Throughout the centuries man has tried to understand and control life, to reduce its threats and increase prosperity. One of the threats most common to most of the world is drought. Without water we cannot live.
Where lack of food starves us in a matter of months and lack of air can snuff us out in a few minutes, lack of water dehydrates us in a few days or hours, depending on external conditions. When we carelessly throw rainwater away, we are not honoring the life-giving role it plays, either for ourselves or for our fellow inhabitants of the earth, including all plants and animals.
How are we wasting water?
I once had an upstairs neighbor who would turn the water on in his bathroom sink, then go into the kitchen while it heated, and subsequently forget the tap was on. After a time, water would come dripping down into my apartment and, if I wasn't home to stop it, flood my bathroom mirrors, sinks and carpet. This was not efficient use.
We use tap-water once, then discard it, even if it's still clean.
We use drinking water for watering the lawn and filling swimming pools, then don't maintain them to keep them running efficiently.
We plant vegetation that belongs in countries wetter than ours, that can't grow here without giving it extra irrigation.
We plant grass and trees, but sprinkle the trees as though they're grass, so roots grow shallow and the trees blow over in storms or burn up because they're so dry. A tree's roots are meant to grow deep and wide, to open the earth up to absorption from the aquifer.
We irrigate farms and yards in the middle of the day in the heat, throwing water up into the air so it evaporates.
We build giant water parks and outdoor swimming pools in dry desert areas, like Nevada and Southern California, requiring multiple refills to replace water evaporating like crazy.
We build giant dams to support and provide electricity (instead of using solar) for a population that's growing out of control. Dams are the biggest evaporators of all.
We transport water uphill on the way to cities across the state, which uses more electricity to justify the building of more dams.
We are all wasting water that could be better used to flow through living bodies, instead of storm drains.
Conserve Water by Changing Behavior: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
We can all cut down on water use in one way or another. When we ask ourselves, "What could I do to increase efficiency in my own household?" the answer will come. Here are some ideas to start you thinking.
Reduce, reuse, recycle applies to conserving water as well as things. Although it may seem daunting, if you start with one item at a time from the following list, you can contribute to a water-efficient society in no time . . . and save money on bills as well.
Save on Leaks
The most immediate, cost-efficient savings measure anyone can take is to fix all leaks everywhere in and out of the house. A homeowner can lose up to 250 gallons a month from a leaky faucet or even 200 gallons a day from a leaky toilet, according to online news source AZCentral.com. Even more is lost from a leaky irrigation system.
Save on Showers
Reduce: Shower less often or take shorter showers. Alternate with sponge baths.
Reuse: Catch the warmup water in a bowl to use for houseplants.
Recycle: Send used water through a greywater system to use on the lawn.
Save on Dishes
Reduce: Briefly rinse each dish before putting it in the dishwasher, so no pre-rinse is needed. This helps a lot when waiting for a full load before washing.
Reuse: Fill sinks with biodegradable soapy dishwater and hot, clean rinse-water to wash & rinse dishes. Discard the used dishwater. Add soap to the rinse-water and use it to clean the stove, refrigerator, or floor.
Recycle: Then send it to the lawn through a greywater system, along with the shower water.
Save on Laundry
Reduce: For spotted dirt or grease on clothes, wet and soap immediately (don't rinse) and throw in the laundry basket. Once there's enough laundry for a full load, wash on a normal or even shorter cycle. The soap on the spot/s will already have them half cleaned before the load starts. Also make sure to reduce the water level for small loads. If a load consists of mostly underwear, consider washing by hand.
Recycle: As with the two above, send this used water through a greywater system to the lawn or flower beds outside.
Save on Washing Floors
Reduce: Use a bucket, rather than running water constantly from the sink, or save the dishwater to use on the floor.
Reuse: Don't throw it down the tub, throw it out on the lawn instead.
Save on Watering the Yard
Reduce: Reprogram the sprinkler system's controller to irrigate more deeply, but less often. This encourages plants to grow deeper root systems, which softens the topsoil (the roots stop matting at the surface) and lets water penetrate deeper, instead of running off the surface. Also, watering in the early morning hours when the air is still cool, prevents loss from evaporation. And most importantly, reduce the amount of grass and replant the landscape with plants that don't need much supplementary irrigation, if any.
Reuse: Dig a depression in the yard to catch runoff and plant it with whatever flowers need to be watered the most. Or shape the lawn so it slopes down toward the flower beds or vegetable garden. This way, excess lawn irrigation will be used, instead of running off into the street.
Recycle: Set up a greywater system for outdoor plants first, using groundwater for irrigation only if needed.
Water Conservation Fixtures to Install
There are many fixtures, machines, and other devices available to install in and outside of a house to cut down on the amount of water used. Many of them have up-front costs that can be fairly quickly recovered from savings on bills. Water suppliers often offer rebates on many of these to help with installation.
Greywater System (GWS): A greywater system collects discarded water from inside the house, runs it through a simple cleaner/filter to upgrade it, then either sends it to the lawn or flower beds right away, or saves it to irrigate the landscape when its programmed time comes up.
High-Efficiency Toilet (HET): HET's have been reshaped to use much less water than they used to. Instead of the old 3.5 gallons or more per flush (pre-1992), they now use 1.28 gpf or less. Most of them are dual flush, so they use less water to flush liquid waste than to flush solids. Even better, there are no-water compost toilets available now. They bring even more savings (1/3 of the bill) and create great compost for the garden.
Low-Flow Faucet Aerator/s and Shower Head: Faucet aerators are made for bathroom and kitchen faucets. They and the showerheads work by including air with the flow, so less water is used while providing the same pressure.
Energy Star Dishwasher: Anything with the Energy Star label, meaning it's made to use energy efficiently, is also designed to use less water. Cleaning sensors let the machine know when dishes are clean, so the flow stops when it's no longer needed.
Water Sense Washing Machine: These machines roll the clothes differently than the old ones did, mixing them with water more efficiently, so less is needed. Because of the changed shape of the drum inside, the machine also absorbs more during the dry cycle, so the clothes don't have to stay in the dryer as long. This saves money on energy bills too.
Drip-System & Bubbler Irrigation Nozzles: Choosing the right type of irrigation nozzle and setup for plants can save a lot of water. Read up and redesign.
Weather Based Irrigation Controller (WBIC): The way to make efficient watering of the landscape easier is to install a WBIC. Soil or air moisture sensors (sold separately) tell the controller when irrigation is really needed, so it refrains from turning the sprinkler system on unnecessarily. This can either save or use more water, but the plants and/or lawn will be healthier in either case.
Saving Money on Bills
One of the best parts of using water more efficiently is the savings on bills - not just with water, but with energy and sewage charges too. Sewer (sanitation) fees are commonly charged as a percent of water used in the house. When we cut down the amount used, we pay less for sanitation. If much of what we cut down is heated water, then we also save money on energy used for heating.
For houses that are highly populated, with kids and friends and relatives running in and out all day, that savings can be substantial. Like a hotel, we could save over half of the water bill each month . . . plus some energy and sewage.
Many of these tips can help people go green in an apartment, too. The savings, combined with lessons family and friends learn about resources, can make the changes financially worthwhile, as well as contributing to the well-being of society.
For more information and how-tos:
- Save Our Water
Save Our Water is a statewide program aimed at helping Californians reduce their everyday water use. Created in 2009, the program offers ideas and inspiration on how to save water indoors and out.