Why conserve water? Water might seem like a renewable resource. Water evaporates and forms clouds. Then it rains and water returns to the earth. It doesn’t necessarily turn up where we want it. As you read this, chances are somewhere in the world is suffering from prolonged drought while somewhere else has to deal with massive flooding.
Water, water everywhere (nearly). But in fact, the earth has only a finite amount of water. Nearly all of it is saltwater.
It’s true that we use and reuse fresh water all the time. A water treatment plant takes water from a lake or river, purifies it, and sends it to our homes and businesses. When we’re through with it, it goes to a wastewater treatment plant, and from there back to a river or lake.
Modern water treatment adds some complication to the natural water cycle. It takes a lot of chemicals to make water safe to drink. It also takes a lot of money and energy to treat and distribute water. Especially when it’s necessary to pump water uphill.
When we waste water, we also waste all the effort, energy, materials, and money that went into purifying it.
Conserving water doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are 10 easy ways to save a lot of it:
1. Beware of Running Water
Whenever water comes out of the tap and goes directly down the drain, the money you pay on your water bill goes down with it. So don’t use running water if you don’t have to.
- Turn the water off while you brush your teeth or wash your hands.
- Wash produce in a bowl of water instead of under running water.
- Thaw food in the refrigerator overnight instead of under running water. Granted, thinking that far ahead isn’t always easy. But if you run water to thaw food, you have to run the tap for several minutes. Alternatively, maybe you can thaw it in a bowl of water.
- Put water in a sink or tub of water to rinse dishes when you hand wash. Better still, put the dishwater in a large bowl or tub. Why? Read on:
2. Use Greywater to Water Plants
Greywater means water that has been used for something. It includes bathwater, mop water, and those tubs of water you just washed and rinsed your dishes in.
You wouldn’t wash with it or cook with it, but the “impurities” can make your houseplants—and even garden plants––thrive. “Reduce, reuse, recycle” works for water just as well as for anything else.
3. Keep a Pitcher of Water in the Refrigerator
Most people would rather drink cold water than lukewarm water. Running tap water for a while might make it colder. But, of course, you waste all that water that goes down the drain while you’re waiting. And bottled water wastes plastic.
4. Use the Same Glass for Drinking Water All Day
The more people live in your house, the more water this tip will save: If you have several glasses of water a day and use a clean glass for each one, your dishwasher will fill up faster. You’ll have to run it sooner.
Now, running the dishwasher can use less water than hand washing, but only it’s full. Run it as infrequently as possible.
5. Use the Garbage Disposal as Little as Possible
The garbage disposal is a quick way to make waste disappear. At least it keeps food waste out of the landfill. To conserve landfill space as well as water, compost all the plant-based waste instead.
You probably can’t compost if you live in an apartment or townhouse. Otherwise, you can.
Even if you don’t garden, you’ll need dirt now and then. And completed compost is nothing but really good dirt.
6. Install Water-Saving Fixtures
Modern building codes require low-flow toilets. They use about a gallon and a half of water per flush. If you have an older house, your toilets may use up to five gallons. In that case, buying new toilets will pay for themselves very quickly in reduced water bills.
But don’t stop there. Install low-flow shower heads. Make sure all your faucets have aerators. Less water will come out of them, but with just as much force and power as the old fixtures.
7. Don’t Use the Toilet as a Trash Can
It can be convenient to throw something in the toilet and flush it instead of carrying it to a garbage can or compost pail. But it uses a lot of unnecessary water.
8. Watch Out for Leaks
Leaks waste water even more than unnecessarily running water. At worst, they can rot cabinets and flooring.
You can easily test for leaks in the toilet by putting food coloring in the tank. Let it sit for a while. If you see food coloring in the bowl, call a plumber.
Have a plumber inspect your plumbing every year in order to identify and fix other leaks.
9. Dig up Grass
If you use your yard to play badminton or croquet, you need a nice grass lawn. Not as many people play those games anymore. Chances are, the only time you walk on your lawn is when you mow it.
Almost anything else you can plant needs less water than grass. Plant trees, shrubbery, vegetables, flowers, or groundcover on some of your yard. Not only do you conserve water by not having to water as much grass, you also the save time and effort of mowing it.
10. Prefer Native Plants
Nurseries can sell you plants from all over the world. Plants native to your area are adapted to the rainfall in your area. If you live in a drought-prone area, native plants can survive it longer than plants that require abundant water.
Want more water conservation tips? Here are 100 ways to conserve water.
It’s hard to manage what you don’t measure. Use this water calculator to measure your water footprint.
Editor’s Note: This article was contributed by David Guion. David Guion served for three years on a university sustainability committee and has written extensively about sustainability. He publishes the respected blog Sustaining Our World and the new website Sustainability Scout.