On Jan. 17, 2014, Jerry Brown proclaimed a State of Emergency for California water supplies. This came after an arid November/December/January following the driest year in recorded state history. I live in San Francisco, an area surrounded by salt water that draws its drinking water supply from Hetch Hetchy Dam and the Tahoe snow pack. Our celebrated agriculture draws its water from the Central Valley aquifers.
As I type this, we are thankfully receiving our first extended period of rain in almost a year. Many of my neighbors are splashing in the streets, happy to see the much-needed precipitation that may not only save our mountain ski season but will also replenish our drinking water supply.
Yet despite the weekend of rain, we are still at only 40% of our regular rainfall for this time of year. That means the drought warnings will continue. And we are not alone. Many other states and countries struggle to manage a limited and often shrinking water supply in a growing world. Without water, we won’t have the ability to grow the food we need or generate the energy we require. And water is vital to our very survival. Given the current, dire water situation in California and elsewhere, what can we do to help conserve this precious resource?
To help make sense of what you can/can’t do, we’ve compiled a few quick tips (some old, some new) to hopefully inspire us all to use only what we need.
Water may not be top of mind at work, but we can all take many steps that will help save this important resource during our nine-to-five.
Turn off the faucet while you lather your hands – The EPA’s WaterSense program estimates that letting your faucet run for just 5 minutes uses about as much energy as letting a 60-watt light bulb run continuously for 14 hours. It also wastes water as the average bathroom faucet flows at a rate of 2 gallons per minute. Turning off the tap while you lather the soap (or brush your teeth) can save up to 8 gallon of water per day, or 240 gallons per month.
Refill your water bottle from the tap instead of buying new – Bottled water has increasingly become a part of daily life. But this wasn’t always the case and the proliferation of bottled water helps contribute to our ongoing water shortage. The Sierra Club estimates that it takes 3 liters of water to produce one liter of bottled water because water is used in the purification process and also to produce the plastic/glass packaging. Bottled water also creates more waste that can often contaminate fresh water sources such as streams and lakes. It also costs more. So instead of reaching for the convenience of bottled water, get a stainless steel or BPA-free container and refill for free using your local (and more sustainable) kitchen faucet.
Turn off the lights – According to the EPA, Energy production accounts for 49% of all water used in the United States. Turn off things not in use like your computer monitor, conference room and office lights, and break-area appliances. The simple action of turning things off will help save money, greenhouse gas emissions and water.
We all know the tips of purchasing more energy/water efficient appliances or installing drought-tolerant landscaping, but if you aren’t in the market for a remodel (or you don’t have a yard), try these tips instead:
Save “used” water to keep plants hydrated – It might seem odd, but your plants will welcome the water you use from rinsing vegetables and fruits or boiling pasta. It will provide them with great nourishment while saving water.
Soak your dishes instead of scrubbing – If you were looking for an excuse to slack off on dish duty, consider this your best tip. Instead of scrubbing pans under running water to remove residue, let them soak instead (overnight even for tough ones). You’ll get more after-work relaxation time, simplify the dishwashing task for the morning, and save water.
Don’t wash your clothes (or dishes) frequently – This idea will help you save your clothes, energy and water (as well as limit detergent pollutants reaching existing water supplies). Most clothes (especially jeans) aren’t intended to be washed after every use. So skip the scrub and wear your items several times before throwing them in the laundry bin. Same for dishes: consider designating one water glass for use each day or week. Refill the glass as you need it and only wash it when you have a full load of dishes (in the dishwasher or sink). Same goes for your laundry – save running the machine until you have a full load of dirty clothes to clean.
In the community…
We can all help conserve and protect water in our communities as well. Think about organizing one of these volunteer projects to preserve fresh water.
Build a community garden – Food uses a tremendous amount of water to produce (and then package and ship to your local supermarket). Supporting a local community garden or farmers’ market can be a wonderful way to raise awareness of water issues while helping the community. Find one in your area through American Community Gardening Association.
Plant a tree – Did you know that trees serve as a natural filter for the soil (and therefore our ground water) by storing or changing potentially harmful pollutants into less harmful forms. Trees also help to prevent soil erosion into our water ways. Volunteer to plant trees with The Arbor Day Foundation.
Clean-up a shoreline – Keeping contamination out of our oceans and rivers is an important way to protect water supplies. Clean-up projects not only help reduce litter, but can also remove invasive species that can harm the bio-diversity and water supply of a region. Help clean up the shores through The Surfrider Foundation.
We’d love to hear more tips from you on creative ways to save water. Please share your suggestions in the comments field below. Or let us know if you tried a tip and how it went!