The Long Hot Summer: When Water Matters

Recently, THTV has been looking at conserving water in the shower, and with drought being declared in more and more places this summer – vast swathes of the Pacific Northwest, Midwest, and South in the US, almost 95% of New South Wales, Australia, and even (formerly) rainy old England – the issue of water conservation is especially pressing. Reducing strain on over-taxed water supplies and coping with water restrictions are beginning to look like annual problems for most of us.

The EPA describes a two-pronged approach to conserving water, comprised of both engineering changes and behavioral changes. Most Treehuggers have implemented the behavioral changes, and are aware of turning off the faucet just like turning out the light. Engineering changes, which alter the plumbing or fixtures of the house, have a higher initial overhead, making them a little slower to be adopted, but can make a significant difference to a home's overall water use.Inside the home, there are not only low-flow showerheads (which as an added benefit often have pause buttons on the water flow, allowing the water to be stopped for a few moments without altering the temperature settings), but also much-improved low-flow toilets, and even low-flow faucets, which are reported to reduce water consumption and the cost of heating water by as much as 50 percent. Sure, you knew about all those things. But do they really make a difference?

It's not too hard to estimate how much impact these changes would have in the average home. According to the University of Minnesota Extension Service, a typical household of four uses 260 gallons of water every day, with 40% of that being used for toilets and another 35% on showers, baths, and faucets – a total of three-quarters of a household's water usage going directly down the drain. Spending about $30 on low-flow showerheads and faucets is estimated to save 45 gallons of that 260 gallons of water, almost 18% of your usage. Splurging on a low-flow toilet could save another 50-80 gallons of water a day. Together, those changes nearly cut in half the household's daily use, saving a considerable amount of water – and passing that savings on to your water bill, as well as your water heating bill.

Outside the home, water barrels can keep your lawn and garden green even if you're in an area affected by water restriction. This is a simple, old-fashioned solution that's been keeping gardens watered for centuries, and it's making a comeback. (You can use a hose or low-pressure sprinklers with your rain barrel. See this site from Clean Virgina Waterways for more suggestions on installation and use.) If you're more ambitious, or have a greater area to water, the EPA suggests gray water reuse. (Gray water is the waste water from benign household sources, such as sinks, tubs, and washing machines.) Some cities, like St. Petersburg, Florida, have a city-wide gray water reclamation and distribution system for non-potable uses. Rain water and gray water aren't just good for gardens. Put it in a bucket, or use your rain barrel hose, and wash your car, your porch, or your house, instead of using potable water to do the same job. Your car won't mind that it can't drink the water, and your municipal water supply will be grateful, especially during drought. [Written by: Eva Jacobus] [Photo by Drome via the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.]