A Thirsty Nation | EcoCenter | Smithsonian
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A Thirsty Nation

What can you do to reduce water consumption?

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1. Improve the water efficiency of your lawn. For many homeowners in the southern United States, lawn irrigation is likely the largest source of residential water waste. There are many things one can do to correct this.

  • Adjust your irrigation controller to fit your climate conditions and landscaping. This alone can produce water savings of over 30%. Some water utilities offer water audits, so check with your local water provider to see if they offer this service. Or, find experienced landscape maintenance firms in your area.
  • Install rain and soil moisture sensors. Many people don’t turn off their irrigation when it rains. Also, most lawns receive far more water than they actually need when it isn’t raining. Both problems can be corrected using sensors attached to your irrigation system.
  • Replace existing landscaping with climate-appropriate options, keeping grass to a minimum. The biggest challenge with many yards is that they are composed of plants originally from other areas with vastly different climate conditions. The typical turf lawn can use up to 40 inches of water a year or more; many climate zones in the US have far less than that in rainfall. What most people don’t realize is that all regions of the US have native plants that are beautiful, durable, and adapted to local climate conditions. Some native grasses can provide the benefits of turf while requiring 1/3 of the water. So, if you really want to save water and also want to stand out on your block, cut down your turf use and rebuild your lawn using beautiful natives. Find landscape architects in your area who can help.
  • Install graywater system to reuse household waste water. Much of the water that you use inside your house can be reused outside for irrigation (excluding toilets and kitchen drains). This water is called “graywater”, as it is used but does not contain health hazards. Not only do you use less water this way, but you also save on sewer charges. This requires some fairly complex plumbing work, so it might best be left to professionals. Please contact us through this link if you would like more information about gray water systems.

2. Replace high-flow plumbing fixtures with efficient versions. Today’s high efficiency plumbing fixtures (toilets, showerheads, etc) not only save water and energy, but also perform as well as their water-guzzling predecessors. You may be wasting tens of gallons a day if you live in an older house with old fixtures. Browse some of today’s attractive and water-saving options.

3. Replace old clothes washers and dishwashers with Energy Star versions. The main benefit of most Energy Star appliances is that they save energy. But, most also save significant amounts of water at the same time. See energy- and water-efficient clothes washers and dishwashers.

4. Evaluate and fix leaks. This might come as a surprise, but over 10% of an average household’s water use can come from leaks. These are often undetected because they are small, hidden in water fixtures, walls and basements, or happen underground. But, drop by drop every minute of the day they add up. Check your water meter to see if you have any leaks (shut off all water uses in your house for an hour, and see if your meter moves).
Find plumbers in your area who can fix them.

5. Reduce second-order impacts. As described above, most of us use as much water via the products and services we use as we do directly (all of the products we use require water somewhere in their production process).

  • Reduce electricity use. Electricity is the biggest water hog by far. In some states, you “use” far more water by using electricity than through all other water-related activities combined. Use less juice, waste less water! Get electricity-saving tips.
  • Know your food supply. The growth in demand for organic and other natural food products shows that people care about where their food comes from. Another dimension of this is the water that it takes to grow them – for many products, the water used in growing them in a particular region (say, rice in the desert?) may counteract the organic benefits. Here are a few quick pointers:
    • Buy produce from areas and farms that practice water-efficient agriculture. Ask your grocers and farmers’ market vendors how they use water in growing their products.
    • For protein, eat less beef and more pork, chicken and fish. Beef is a real water hog. Pork, chicken and fish all use substantially less water per pound of meat.
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