Water conservation is a good idea all the time, not just during a drought. Here are some tips and ideas to help you reduce your water usage indoors and outdoors.
Ways to Conserve Water Indoors
We use a lot of water inside of the home, not all of it wisely. For example, leaks can waste 10% percent of your water supply. A one-drop-per-minute leak can waste over 50 gallons of water a year. Many of the causes can be easily fixed. If some simple repairs don't correct the problem, consult a plumber.
Water Supply Line
- Check for water leaks by checking your water meter. Turn off the water, and note the measurement on the meter. Check back in 30 minutes, and see if the meter reading has changed. If so, you have a leak somewhere. A toilet is your first suspect.
- Replace your old toilet with a new low-flush toilet. The older models use 3 to 7 gallons of water per flush, while the new ones only use 1-1/2 gallons.
- Find and repair leaky toilets. If you can see or hear water flowing into the bowl, the tank is leaking. Check for a silent leak by putting a few drops of food coloring in the tank. If the coloring shows up in the bowl after 20 minutes, your toilet is leaking. Flappers, floats or handles cause most leaks.
- A water displacement apparatus can be used in older toilets. Fill a plastic bottle with water, add something to the inside (such as pebbles) for weight and place it in the bottom of the tank where it won't interfere with the flushing mechanism. Don't use this method in the newer low-water use models.
- Don't throw trash in the toilet bowl.
- Check your kitchen and bath for leaky faucets. Don't forget to check outdoor and basement faucets. Repair or replace them. Both of these tasks are simple and inexpensive do-it-yourself projects, whether the faucet is a compression or ceramic-disc-type. Until you're able to work on them, place a container underneath the drip and collect the water. Use it to water plants.
- Add a low-flow aerator. Make sure you purchase one that fits your faucet. Installation usually involves screwing it on the spout. Water flow can be reduced by about half with no noticeable loss of efficiency.
Showers and Bathtubs
- Shorten your shower time. If you have an older showerhead, five minutes less in the shower can save you 20 gallons of water.
- Buy an attachment that fits behind the showerhead and allows you to stop the water flow (so you can lather up) without losing water temperature. Showerheads are also available with this feature built in.
- Replace your showerhead with a low-flow, water-saving model. Water usage can be reduced by up to 5 gallons a minute.
- Put a water flow restrictor in your current showerhead. These small additions attach to the shaft right behind the showerhead.
- If you prefer to or need to bathe, do so in 2 to 3 inches of water instead of a full tub.
- Dishwashers and clothes washers should be used only when they have a full load. Modern dishwashers do a good job without pre-rinsing. But, if you must do some pre-cleaning, soak the dishes in the sink or a dishpan rather than rinsing them under the faucet.
- If you're forced to wash less than a full load of clothes, set the water level accordingly.
- Cut down on your use of the garbage disposal. Keep food wastes, such as fruit and vegetable peelings, for the compost bin.
Other Indoor Tips
- Put a bucket in the shower with you to collect water while the temperature regulates. Use the water for plants.
- Turn the water off while you brush your teeth or shave.
- If you want a cool drink, keep a pitcher of drinking water in the refrigerator rather than running the tap.
- Wrap your water pipes with insulating tape or foam to conserve hot water.
- Steam food instead of boiling. Use water left over from boiling pasta to water plants. (Let it cool first!)
Ways to Conserve Water Outdoors
Water is more likely to be wasted outdoors than indoors. Be observant and look for these simple ways to conserve water in the home landscape.
- Grow the proper turfgrass for your area, and follow the lawn-care regimen for that variety.
- Reduce turf areas in the lawn.
- Keep off of the grass. A lawn already stressed by drought can be further damaged by excessive foot traffic.
- Mow the grass higher than usual to promote good root growth and prevent scorching.
- Do a soil test and make the recommended changes. Additional organic matter helps plant roots retain moisture and grow deeper.
- Prevent run-off of water and fertilizer. Dethatch and aerate to increase water absorption and reduce soil compaction.
- Remove weeds that compete for water and nutrients.
- Use soaker hoses or drip systems to deliver water exactly where it's needed.
- Keep in-ground sprinkler systems adjusted and properly maintained.
- Add a moisture sensor to your irrigation system to prevent overwatering.
- Use hose-end sprinklers that deliver water in droplets instead of a mist that evaporates or blows away.
- Use a rain gauge to monitor any water that falls. Provide additional water only if needed.
- Water lawns early in the day when less wind and lower temperatures keep evaporation to a minimum.
- Keep an eye on the garden hose. Make sure the connection is leak-free. Repair or replace a leaky hose. Don't forget and leave them running.
Plants, Trees and Shrubs
- Use mulch — about a 4-inch-deep layer is sufficient. If mulch is too deep, water can't penetrate to the plant's roots.
- Plant a shade garden.
- Pull weeds; they compete with your ornamental plants for water.
- Use native plants. They're well-adapted to the local environment.
- Implement xeriscaping principles.
- If forced to choose, water shrubs and trees that are more costly and more difficult to replace than your annuals or perennials.
Other Outdoor Tips
- Limit car washing or visit a commercial car wash that recirculates its water.
- Use a broom to clean walks and driveways rather than a garden hose.
- Water plants with collected rainwater, water from the dehumidifier tank or melted ice from your cooler.
- When choosing a pond or fountain, install water features that recycle water.
- Use a cover for your pool or hot tub to reduce evaporation.
- Use gray water on ornamental plants.
Learn and follow your local water conservation ordinances and restrictions.
Gray water is ordinary household water that can be reused, primarily to water plants and flush toilets. Water from dishwashers, showers, bathtubs, sinks and clothes washers can be used. Don't use water from garbage disposals, toilets, laundry that includes diapers or kitchen water used to wash poultry or meat.
Don't use water containing bleach or other chemicals used in laundry water, water treated with softeners or swimming pool water. These could be harmful to plants.
Gray water collection systems can be installed for maximum water conservation.
Some municipalities consider gray water to be wastewater. Check with your local health department for local ordinances.
Because gray water hasn't been purified, don't use it on anything that will be consumed. Never consume gray water.
Don't forget your personal safety during dry weather:
- Keep yourself hydrated, especially during hot weather. Drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day is the recommended amount.
- Learn to recognize and deal with heat-related health issues.
- Dry conditions bring concerns about fire. Dry vegetation can ignite in an instant. Be extra cautious when you're dealing with grills or any fire.
- Preserve groundwater by using fertilizer and pesticide wisely and according to the manufacturer's instructions.
- Dispose of waste and hazardous materials properly.
Droughts have been coming and going since the beginning of time. As recurring natural events, droughts are more than just dry spells.
Droughts may not be as immediately obvious as other catastrophes, but they can certainly qualify as natural disasters. The after-effects of extended droughts can be far-reaching. Wildfire danger increases dramatically during droughts. Livestock and food crop production are affected; we feel it at the supermarket. Heavy rains after droughts cause flooding.
There are three main types of drought:
- Meteorological: a variation from normal rainfall amounts for a length of time
- Agricultural: a meteorological drought that affects crops and/or livestock
- Hydrological: after an extended period of time, the lack of rainfall causes natural water supplies in lakes and rivers to be affected
Droughts are further rated in severity on a scale as abnormally dry, moderate, severe, extreme or exceptional. Aside from textbook definitions, what most of us know about droughts are that they're uncomfortable and inconvenient, proof that we take water for granted.