Water Wisdom

Though the earth's surface is mostly covered by water, not even 1% of it is fresh and accessible. Hundreds of millions of people already lack sufficient access to fresh water, and, if current consumption rates continue, this could soon increase by 25% according to the UN. The lack of sanitation facilities and fresh water contributes greatly to the incidence and spread of disease, from cholera to hepatitis to dysentery to simple infections. Meanwhile, the average American uses more than 185 gallons of water each day, which is approximately 25 times the amount used in parts of Africa. The problem is not just a foreign one, however, with large portions of the US living in increasingly dry regions, like the Southwest, and competition over scarce resources being a likely source of international conflict in the future. And, using less water uses less energy (energy used to treat it, pump it, and heat it), so, though Lakewood has reliable access to water, conserving it is in everyone's best interests.

The bathroom is one major source of water waste. Leaky faucets can waste up to 20 gallons in a day; toilets up to 200! To test for leaks in your toilet, put a few drops of food coloring into the tank. If it spreads to the bowl without you flushing it, you've got a leak. Because toilets are the biggest water hog in the average home, you should also avoid unnecessary flushing. One way to do this is to use the trash can for items like tissues or dead bugs (or at least not flush for just a single dead insect). Though running water while brushing your teeth or lathering soap on your hands seems a small thing, all that water adds up.

If you don't already have them, upgrade to low-flow showerheads and toilets. Though the initial models of low-flow showerheads and toilets had their faults, namely earning a reputation for their weakness, newer models have improved greatly over their predecessors. Many are equipped with aerators that simulate the water pressure of old using air rather than additional water. The EPA has developed a WaterSense program (like Energy Star for water) that tests them for effectiveness and water use and labels them accordingly.

Keep your showers as short as possible. If you find this difficult to do on your own, consider purchasing a shower timer or using an egg timer. While many are just visual or auditory reminders that you've been in the shower for however many minutes, some can be set to turn off or drastically reduce the water flow after a set amount of time. These devices may help not only with water conservation, but with making sure each member of the family gets a hot shower in the morning. One way to help get down that shower time is to shave elsewhere - pretty much none of those gallons of water raining down on you are really helping you shave your legs or face.

In the kitchen, try keeping a pitcher or bottle of water in the refrigerator so you don't have to wait for the water from the faucet to get cold. Or, capture this warmer water and use for watering your plants (this same trick can be used when waiting for your shower water to get hot or with leftover cooking water). Similarly, if you have a fish tank, consider re-using the water left over from cleaning it to water your plants - the dirty water contains nitrogen and phosphorous that will help nourish them. When defrosting food, leave it in the refrigerator overnight or use the defrost setting on your microwave rather than using water. Run your dishwasher and washing machine only when you have full loads, and use powdered detergents or the most concentrated solution available - the average laundry detergent is about 80% water and more water is used in the manufacturing of all that packaging.

Outside, water your lawn and plants in the evening when it is cooler and less sunny. A higher proportion of the water will soak into the soil rather than being evaporated by the sun. Consequently, you will be able to water your lawn less often. If you use a sprinkler, get a sprinkler timer and set it for only what you need, preferably either in the early morning or the evening, and make sure that the sprinkler is pointed towards the lawn and not the sidewalk. When your porch, driveway, or sidewalk needs a cleaning, sweep rather than hosing it off.

For a dirty car, opt for a full-service wash over using a hose, since full-service washes use around 40-45 gallons, while hose washing can use between 80 and 140. Ideally, the car wash will also recycle its wash-water. Washing at home can also send dangerous chemicals down the storm drain. However, if you do want to wash at home, use a bucket instead of a hose and wash over the lawn instead of the driveway. You can also try one of the abundance of new waterless car wash products, like EcoTouch (http://www.ecotouch.net) or Detail Magic (available at some Home Depot stores).

Read More on Conservation Corner
Volume 4, Issue 18, Posted 1:57 PM, 08.24.2008