On the heels of World Water Day on March 22nd, I wanted to shed some light on the increasing world water crisis. Contrary to popular belief, or should we say consumer behavior in America, water is a finite, irreplaceable resource.
In the last century the world has lost 70% of its natural wetlands, which has affected economic development as well as social and environmental stability.
The lack of high-quality freshwater is one of the world’s greatest challenges according to the International Water Association (IWA). It affects food security, human health, and our ecosystems. The world water crisis is severe. Approximately 3 billion people are without water at home or in the vicinity. About 4 billion are without continuous access to water. While some people are dying of thirst, others need to conserve.
Home water consumption worldwide ranges from 28 to 631 liters (7 to 167 gallons) per person per day according to a publication by the International Water Association. The UN recommendation is about 50-100 liters (13-26 gallons) per person. That means a lot of people consume more water than they need.
The average American consumes more than 370 liters of water (98 gallons) per day. Taking the UN recommendations into consideration, each person in the United States could single-handedly save 98,550 liters (26,034 gallons) per year. This means the nation as a whole would save 31.8 trillion liters, which are 8.4 trillion gallons.
Hidden Water Usage
Direct water usage is actual water used when you turn on the tap and use running water (showers, washing dishes, watering plants, flushing etc.). Indirect water usage is the water hidden in products we buy, from the materials needed to make them, to the industrial processes used for manufacturing (to create fuel and energy requires water, too).
Agriculture accounts for 92% of humanity’s freshwater footprint across the planet, and has long been identified as a major culprit in drought. Reducing food waste has a dual effect on water waste. Only buy what you need, manage and plan your meals.
Let’s take a look at what else you can do.
How to Save Water at Home
1. Take Short Showers
A 15-minute shower, with the water running continuously, consumes 36 gallons (135 liters of water). It can reach 48 gallons (180 liters) if you live in an apartment, where the water pressure is higher. Reducing your shower time to 5 minutes, shrinks consumption to 12 gallons (45 liters).
Use a low-flow shower-head to save water. With that you could then even allow yourself up to 10 min under the shower. If you are using a power shower head, you might be using more water than a bath, no matter how long you stay in there.
2. Don’t Let Water Run Unnecessarily
When brushing your teeth, or washing your hands, shave, wash your vegetables, dishes, and anything else that needs running water, only turn the faucet when needed. Don’t let it run continuously.
Newer bath faucets use about 1 gallon per minute, older models use over 2 gallons. When you leave the faucet on for 5 minutes, while brushing your teeth, you will consume 5 gallons, (18 liters) of water, or 10 gallons with older models. If you open the tap only when you need to wet the toothbrush or rinse and close it right after, your consumption will drop to less than half a gallon (2 liters). You can save even more by filling a glass of water and use that to brush your teeth.
Also don’t rinse your dishes before putting them into the dishwasher. That’s what the dishwasher is for. If you argue with me that the dishes come out dirty of your dishwasher, then there’s something wrong with your dishwasher and I suggest you call the manufacturer. If it’s one plate once in a while, you can clean that off after, rather than pre-rinsing every single item that goes into the dishwasher. It’s an immense water waste.
Use a dual flush — offering two buttons-, one with more pressure and one with less – it’s more economical than a single flush. The dual flush uses between half to 1.5 gallons (3 to 6 liters) of water per flush. In the U.S., federal standards require new toilets to use no more than 1.5 gallons (6 liters) per flush, and consumers can choose a toilet with a WaterSense certification from the federal government.
A washing machine uses 36 gallons (135 liters) of water per wash. Wash as much of your clothing as possible at once.
If you can, pre-wash the dirtiest clothing in a bucket by soaking it in vinegar or coconut soap, this makes cleaning easier and thus reduces water consumption, allowing you to choose a shorter cycle in the washing machine.
5. Gardening & Landscaping
If you live in warmer climates like California, choose some of Southern California’s native plants and succulents that are naturally drought-tolerant instead of thirsty lawns.
And if you want to be a water saving pro, use drip-irrigation to keep them watered. It’s a win-win: easy to care for and much easier on the water supply!
If native landscaping isn’t your thing or you live in a cooler climate and you do grow grass, let it grow a little taller by setting your mower blades to 2-3 inches high. Longer grass shades the soil, improves moisture retention and leaves more leaf surface to take in the light.
6. Catch & Release
There’s a lot of water that goes down our drains, both indoors and out, that could be captured and reused for non-potable uses. Think about old cups of water, the water that runs while you’re waiting for the tap to heat up, and rainwater. All this water could be saved and used for things like watering plants or flushing toilets.
Or you can get into the habit of using greywater, which is gently used water from your bathroom sinks, showers, tubs, and washing machines for irrigation. Keep in mind that if greywater is released into rivers or lakes, it’s nutrients become pollutants, but to plants, they are valuable fertilizer.
To make conservation part of our culture moving forward, it will take a combination of behavior changes at the individual level and policy changes at the government level.
In California lawmakers have passed a series of measures aimed at reducing water usage and improving sustainability.
Starting in 2023, urban water agencies will be held to stricter water-use efficiency objectives, including helping residents reduce indoor water use to 55 gallons per person per day.
To sum it all up, with the mix of strong policies and individual behavior change we can make a big difference.
If you want to calculate your daily Water Footprint, click here.