With less than one percent of water on Earth deemed usable for drinking, we need to protect the clean water we have and use only what we need.
Conserving water and keeping waterways clean benefits everyone by reducing the energy needed to treat water, reducing water contamination from polluted runoff, preserving wetlands that naturally clean water and reducing the need for additional water treatment facilities.
Here are 8 tips and incentives for reducing your water use and eliminating pollutants you inadvertently put into the water system.
- Update water fixtures
Use less water by installing aerators on all household faucets and low-flow showerheads in the bathrooms and save 2,300 to 7,000 gallons of water per year. A low-flow (1.28 gallons per flush) WaterSense-labeled toilet could save a family of four more than $110 a year compared to older models that use five gallons or more per flush, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). If your toilet has been around since the 1980s or longer, it could use up to seven gallons per flush. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a whopping 73 percent of the water used at home is either flushed down the toilet or washed down the shower drain.
- Change your habits
The EPA estimates the average household of four uses up to 400 gallons of fresh water each day and spends more than $1,000 per year on water and sewer bills. A change in personal habits can lower that number. Start by taking short showers instead of baths. It takes about 30 gallons of water to fill the average tub, compared to 15 gallons of water for a five-minute shower. Turn off the faucet when washing your hands or brushing your teeth (saving 3,000 gallons a year). When shaving, fill the sink with water to rinse a razor, instead of letting the water run.
- Make a mechanical fix
That annoying leaking or running toilet can waste as much as 200 gallons of water per day. An easy way to check for leakage is to put a few drops of food coloring in the toilet tank. If the color begins to appear in the bowl without flushing, then the toilet is leaking and it’s time for a repairman or replacement. Often, the labor charge is the same for toilet repair and toilet replacement, so consider a leak as inducement to purchase a newer, more efficient toilet.
- Turn it off outside
A lawn and garden can consume up to 70 percent of a household water bill during hot summer months. But there are ways to drastically reduce this usage. Start by planting native varieties of vines, grasses, flowers, bushes and trees. This will eliminate the need for chemical fertilizing, which will reduce the contamination of water runoff from rain into the sewer system or water table. After they are established in the garden, natives should rarely require additional watering. Use generous amounts of compost and mulch in all garden beds to retain moisture, reducing the need for watering. Use soaker hoses or drip irrigation systems, which are 20 percent more efficient than sprinklers. Apply water early in the morning to minimize evaporation.
- Tap into Johnson County incentives
If you live in Johnson County, KS there are cost-sharing programs available for planting rain gardens, installing rain barrels and planting native trees. Residents can qualify for a 50-percent match on the cost of rain gardens and native planting swales/buffers, rain barrels, and native plants. Participating cities include Gardner, Fairway, Leawood, Lenexa, Merriam, Mission, Mission Hills, Olathe, Overland Park, Prairie Village, Roeland Park, Shawnee, Westwood and Westwood Hills. Each city in Johnson County administers its own program. Visit Contain the Rain to see garden templates and program requirements.
- Rein in your rainwater
Capturing rainwater in a rain barrel is one of the easiest, most satisfying ways to save water and provide your garden with a chlorine-free drink. A one-inch rain can provide 600 gallons of water runoff from a 1,000-square-foot roof. That’s enough to fill more than 10 rain barrels. Most hardware stores sell assembled rain barrels.
- Redirect it
Reduce the amount of water that your property contributes to the sewer system and increase groundwater absorption by decreasing the amount of impervious surfaces around your home. Strive for fewer hard surfaces of concrete and asphalt. Landscape with vegetation, gravel or other porous materials instead of cement. Install wood decking instead of concrete, and interlocking bricks and paver stones for walkways. Redirect rain gutters and downspouts to soil, grass or gravel areas. Planting vegetation at lower elevations than nearby hard surfaces allows runoff to seep into the soil.
- Don’t let toxins go down the drain
Everything that runs down the drain ends up in our water system. So, don’t flush prescription drugs or harsh chemicals. Recycle used motor oil. Avoid pouring waste oil into gutters or down storm drains, and resist the temptation to dump waste onto the ground. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a single quart of motor oil that seeps into groundwater can pollute 250,000 gallons of drinking water. When you buy motor oil, ask if the store or service station has a program to buy back waste oil and dispose of it properly. Or dispose of oil, chemicals and paint at recycling centers offered by many local municipalities. Check Recycle Spot for the closest recycling location.
Photo: Green America