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Eco-Tip Tuesday: Be Water Wise

Posted Oct 05 2009 10:03pm

Did you know that America faces a water-supply crisis? Less than 2% of the Earth’s water supply is fresh water, and yet we’re using and polluting our water faster than we can replenish our clean supply. Today, the average American uses approximately 140-160 gallons of water per day, so it’s more crucial than ever that we reduce our water usage as much as possible so we have enough for tomorrow.

In this episode of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Robert Glennon, author of Unquenchable, tells us he believes Americans need a moral compass and the political will to prevent the water crisis from becoming a catastrophe. Profligate consumption of water for agriculture, power generation, industry, and homes has led to reduction of groundwater, threats to rivers, and mortal danger to many of the nation’s lakes. Much of the blame for this state of affairs lies with uncontrolled growth in the nation’s South and Southwest. Desert cities such as Las Vegas use fountains as decorations. Phoenix households draw down the finite resources of ever-shrinking Lake Mead.

In Unquenchable, Glennon documents in great detail the present and future water crises in Georgia, California, and even seemingly water-rich Michigan, noting that states generally end up competing with one another over water allocation and that international conflict follows in short order. Desalination offers little immediate hope because of economic and ecological barriers. Glennon submits a list of possible reforms to decrease water consumption. Some, such as waterless toilets, are technological innovations. Others, such as restructuring sewer systems, require governmental intervention.

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Saving water is even more important if you live in a dry climate where there are water restrictions or drought conditions, like San Diego, Phoenix, or Denver. But even if you live where rainfall is plentiful, a few easy changes can save you at least $200 per year on your water and sewer bills, and help protect our water supplies from depleting too quickly: 

Dishwashers. If your dishwasher was built before 1994, buy a new energy- and water-efficient Energy Star-qualified model, and you’ll save more than $30 per year in utility costs. Many states and municipalities offer rebates or tax incentives for upgrading your dishwasher: Find out if you qualify.

Faucets. If your bathroom and kitchen faucet pours out more than 2 gallons per minute, attach  low-flow faucet aerators. You’ll save up to $80 per year on utility bills. If you turn the sink off while you brush your teeth or scrub your hands, you’ll save even more!

Showers. If your showerhead blasts more than 3 gallons per minute, switch it out for a low-flow one. Most low-flow showerheads feel as nice as the high-flow ones. Since you’ll also save energy (due to less hot water use), you’ll shave about $80 per year off your utility bills. You can save even more if your shower takes less than 6 minutes!

Toilets. Compared to a pre-1993 3.5 gallon-per-flush toilet, an  EPA WaterSense -labeled toilet will use 1.3 gallons or less, saving $90 per year. Many cities offer  local rebates if you change out your toilet to a low-flow or dual-flush model. If you don’t need a new toilet, you can cheaply convert your existing toilet by putting a plastic bottle full of sand or a brick placed in an airtight bag into the tank to displace the water. You can also retrofit your tank with a dual-flush system that will use less water when all you need to flush is urine.

Ever wonder why we use potable water to flush the toilet? What a waste! To really maximize your water savings, consider installing a Watersaver system that recycles the water from your bathroom sink by using it to flush your toilet. This system in combination with a low-flow, dual-flush toilet could save you hundreds of dollars and thousands of gallons a year!

Washing Machines. If your washing machine is more than 10 years old, a front-loading, high-efficiency Energy Star-qualified washer can save you $145 per year between power and water bills. Many states and municipalities offer rebates or tax incentives for upgrading your washing machine: Find out if you qualify.

Irrigation. Landscape irrigation is one of the biggest uses of household water during the summer, so anything you can do to save water outside your home will also save you at least $75 a year. A series of rainbarrels—or better yet, a cistern—can capture rain water from your rooftop which you can then use to water your lawn and gardens for free, saving precious fresh water for cooking, drinking and bathing. (Calculate the size of the rainbarrel system or cistern you need to capture all the water from your rooftop here.)

You can also install a micro-irrigation system that targets just your plants and reduces the runoff and evaporation that wasteful sprinkler systems cause. These drip systems are very affordable, easy to install and highly efficient—they can even water your outdoor potted plants while you are away!

Since it takes energy to treat our water, if just one out of every 100 American homes retrofitted with water-efficient fixtures, we’d save enough energy to power 900 homes for a year. So in every way it pays to conserve water. After all, we can’t live without it.

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