5 Easy Ways to Save a Lot of Water

Try these simple tricks to conserve that precious natural resource known as H2O.

water faucet

Getty Images / Design by Josh Seong

In this edition of Small Acts, Big Impact we look at some clever steps to reduce your personal water footprint.

Water is all around us. It fills oceans and lakes, flows in rivers, and rains down from the sky. But despite its seeming abundance, it’s a finite resource—we only have what we have. And while there are 332,500,000 cubic miles of it on Earth, only one-hundredth of 1% of the planet's water is readily available for human use.

Meanwhile, human consumption of water has increased sixfold over the past century and is rising by about 1% a year. By some accounts, the world could face a 40% global water deficit by 2030 under a business-as-usual scenario. So let’s get off the business-as-usual bandwagon and start saving some water! Here are some easy places to start.

Small Act: Fix a Leaky Faucet

A leaky faucet dripping at the rate of one drip per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons per year. Most leaks are often easy to fix, requiring just a few tools and some hardware. 

Big Impact

In the United States, the average household has plumbing leaks that cause nearly 10,000 gallons of wasted water every year; enough water to wash more than 300 loads of laundry. All together, household leaks can waste a trillion gallons of water annually in the United States; equal to the total annual household water use of nearly 11 million homes.

Small Act: Feed Your Plants with Pet Water

Experts recommend refreshing your pet’s water bowl at least twice a day; instead of dumping that old water down the drain, give it to houseplants, garden plants, or urban trees instead.

Big Impact

Dumping one gallon of pet drinking water down the drain every day adds up to 365 gallons of wasted water a year. That is roughly the same amount of water a person in Mali uses, in total, in four months.

Small Act: Cook Pasta in its Sauce

This may sound like sacrilege, but Martha Stewart and Epicurious are just two of the many culinary advocates who praise one-pot pasta recipes. With this method, the giant pot of boiling water is eschewed, and pasta is cooked directly in the sauce instead.

Big Impact

Some American households will use over 100 gallons of water a year just cooking pasta alone. With 128.45 million households in the United States, that's 12,845,000,000 gallons of old pasta water gone to sea! Even if we halve the number to account for households that don't eat as much pasta, we are still talking some six billion gallons of water wasted.

Small Act: Consider the Flush

Flushing is one of the most water-intensive acts in a house. Most of us have heard the "if it's yellow, let it mellow" maxim, but there are other ways to save water here as well. Let it mellow if you like, but also do not use the toilet to flush cigarettes, old food, tissues, or other things that could be recycled, composted, or put in the trash.

Big Impact

Conventional toilets use around five to seven gallons per flush; low-flow models used as little as 1.6 gallons. Ten flushes a day with an older toilet can add up to 25,000 gallons of water a year; cutting that down to five flushes a day reduces that number to 12,500 gallons. And flushing even less reduces that number even more.

Small Act: Skip a Burger

For anyone eating meat, even just cutting down a bit can make a big difference when it comes to one's water footprint. If becoming vegan or vegetarian is too big a step, consider becoming a reducetarian — someone who strives to reduce their meat consumption, with the understanding that even incremental change is valuable.

Big impact

Raising animals for meat requires a lot of water — for example, 1,800 gallons of water are used per pound of beef produced, most of it used in growing the feed.  This means that a quarter-pound burger requires enough water to fill 10 bathtubs. Even if you just swapped out one quarter-pounder a month for a veggie burger, that would add up to 5,400 gallons of water saved! See how easy that is?