Conserving water is becoming increasingly important, and it has become a necessity in areas that are suffering from drought. According to the UN, by 2025 (in less than 15 years), 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water-stressed conditions, as a result of water shortages from climate change and rising levels of water use due to a growing population.
Reducing your water use will not only lower your water bills and help prevent potential water shortages. It also reduces the strain on municipal water systems and infrastructure (e.g., sewer, water treatment and supply), which helps reduce the energy, maintenance, and the associated taxes required to run and expand those systems. Using less water also saves energy, since energy is used to treat, deliver, and heat water. And it leaves more water in lakes, rivers, and streams for aquatic species.
These are some of the ways that you can reduce your household water use, both indoors and outdoors:
- Replace your toilets, faucets, and showerheads with high-efficiency (WaterSense labeled) plumbing fixtures, or at least add aerators to your faucets. Consider getting a dual-flush toilet. Switching to such fixtures results in significant water savings.
- Do not let faucets run longer than is necessary for your task. And when you turn a faucet off, make sure that it is turned all the way off.
- Try to take short showers.
- When using a clothes washer or dishwasher, only wash fairly full loads (or select a light-load setting for small loads). If you’re buying a new washer, select a high-efficiency, water-saving model. Front-loading washing machines are typically more efficient than top-loading machines.
- Wash dirty dishes immediately or soak them before hand-washing, so that they can be washed off more easily and quickly (requiring less water).
- If a faucet is dripping or if your toilet is running (for too long after it has been flushed), have the leak fixed right away. A leaking toilet can waste more than 50 gallons of water each day, and a dripping faucet or showerhead can waste up to 1,000 gallons of water per week (according to ResourceVenture.org). Also check for washing machine or dishwasher leaks (usually found where the hose is connected to the machine or at the shut-off valve). Familiarize yourself with the water shut-offs behind your toilet, sinks, and washing machine, as well as the water shut-off for the entire house, so that you know how to turn off the water when needed.
- Compare your water bills (or water meter readings) from month to month and year to year, to monitor the results of your conservation efforts and to look for any sudden spikes in water use, which could be caused by leaks.
OUTDOORS (yard / lawn / garden):
- If you have irrigation sprinklers, make sure that they are adjusted so that they’re only watering planted areas and are not watering sidewalks or other paved areas. Also, sweep your sidewalks and driveway (and other paved areas), rather than hosing them down.
- Water your yard/garden during the coolest and least windy time of the day (usually early morning) to avoid losing a lot of water via evaporation.
- When you add new plants, trees, or other vegetation, select drought-tolerant or native/adapted plants that require little, if any, irrigation. To get information on how to choose the best plants for your area, click here.
- Putting mulch on your garden or landscaped areas can help the soil retain moisture longer.
- Turf grass typically requires much more water than groundcover or shrubs, so the less lawn area you have, the less watering you will need to do. If adding or reseeding grass areas, select a drought-tolerant grass variety or consider replacing the grass area with groundcover. As an added bonus, most types of groundcovers and some types of grasses will only grow a couple of inches tall, so they would rarely if ever need to be mowed.
- If you are installing an irrigation system, choose a high-efficiency irrigation system. Drip, micro, and bubbler irrigation systems are more efficient than spray or sprinkler irrigation, because they deliver water directly to plants’ roots, minimizing evaporative water loss.
- If you have an irrigation system, make sure that all spray or drip spouts are oriented in such a way that they are watering planted areas only and are not watering the sides of buildings, pathways or other paved areas. In addition to wasting water, allowing water to pool up on pavement can make it slippery to walk on an can degrade the pavement over time.
- Also, for irrigation systems, perform (or have an irrigation specialist perform) regular system checks and maintenance, to make sure there are no leaking heads, pipes, or valves. Make sure the irrigation system is not watering the lawn/yard/garden during (or immediately preceding or following) rainy days. Even on dry days, make sure the system is not over-watering the plants or over-saturating the soil. Re-program the system seasonally and as necessary to adjust to weather conditions. Winterize the system before the first frost of each year. If issues arise, consider hiring an irrigation professional to do an irrigation audit.
- Consider adding rainwater collection barrels/tanks at downspouts (or putting a bucket in your shower, or installing a greywater system) for use in watering your yard/garden.
At a broader level, two of the most effective ways to reduce water use (indirectly but significantly) are: to reduce your energy use (because the generation of electricity typically requires enormous amounts of water), and to reduce your consumption of meat (because raising some types of meat animals, particularly corn-fed factory-farmed beef cows, requires enormous amounts of water).
For more information on water conservation, visit these websites:
- H2OUSE: Water Saver Home
- Water—Use It Wisely
- An overview on water use from WaterSense
- NRDC’s water info
- EPA’s water info
- EPA’s Greenscaping (eco-landscaping) info
- Alliance for Water Efficiency
- UN’s water programs/info
Miriam Landman is an accomplished writer, editor, and sustainability advisor with expertise in green living, green building, and sustainable communities. For daily links to sustainable solutions and success stories, connect to her Facebook page for The Green Spotlight. To receive concise, quarterly email updates from The Green Spotlight, sign up here.