Because of low water levels the federal government issued a water shortage declaration for the first time on Lake Mead, the country’s the largest fresh water reservoir. Photo credit: APK, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
Why should we be concerned about water conservation and sustainability?
Water covers over 70% of the earth so it’s easy to assume that it will always be available, but on average every person in the U.S. alone uses around 80-100 gallons of fresh water, 300 gallons for an average American family. We drink it, cook with it, use it for our laundry, heat it for our showers and irrigate our lawns and gardens. Water, which requires massive amounts of energy to produce, is needed for us to do these simple every day tasks. And surprisingly, about 27% of the water we use inside our homes goes down the drain when we flush the toilets.
While water is a renewable resource it doesn’t mean its availability is unlimited. We cant take more water from lakes, reservoirs and ground water aquifers faster than they can recharge or they will eventually dry up. Humans took so much water out of the Colorado river that it no longer flows to the sea, and a water shortage was declared for Lake Mead in 2021, reducing southern Nevada’s water allocation by 7 billion gallons in 2022. And for the first time, a 1971 intake valve was exposed in the lake so it can no longer be used to draw water.
Reducing our water footprint
Our water footprint is the the total volume of fresh water used to produce the goods and services we consume. We can all help to lower our water usage, our footprint, by simply making small and smarter adjustments to our daily routines, beginning with what we eat and changing our daily habits and how we live our every day lives.
It takes around 1,850 gallons of water to produce just one pound of beef, but only 295 gallons to make one pound of soy burger. It takes about 1000 gallons of water just to make a single gallon of milk, and 52 gallons to produce one egg. And if you get your coffee at a coffee house or food mart, it takes more than 50 gallons of water just to make one morning Latte.
Two of the largest water uses in the U.S. come from the agriculture industry, where there are many inefficiencies, and power generation, where fresh water is used in the cooling of power plants.
We can cut down on our dependencies from these water-draining behemoths by generating or buying green power for our homes, and growing our own food or buying it locally. Local food growers may not be totally “green” but since they live in the same community they are at least more aware of their local community needs and issues.
Simple ways to help reduce our water consumption
We use roughly 70% of water inside and 30% outside our homes. There are many things we can do as responsible citizens to use water more efficiently while still getting the same or better service, but by using less water.
Indoors, we can reduce power consumption by replacing or just unplugging inefficient energy sapping vampires from products and appliances in our homes, and conserve water by taking shorter showers, turning off the water while brushing our teeth, and installing water saving faucets and fixtures, low flow shower heads and water conserving toilets.
Side loading horizontal washing machines use just half the energy and one third less water than top loading vertical washing machines, and also get your clothes cleaner.
In the summer months one of the largest household water uses is for watering lawns and gardens. Raise your lawn mower’s cutting height and mow your lawn less often during hotter summer months and let the grass grow taller. Reduce fertilizer use and leave the grass clippings on the lawn to hold in moisture and provide nutrients for the lawn.
Using drip irrigation in your garden will save 60% of the water used in conventional garden watering methods and is better for your plants. Drip irrigation hoses are generally inexpensive and can be used with a timer, and while a sprinkler indiscriminately spreads water everywhere, drip irrigation doesn’t waste water because it is directed directly to the plants, and doesn’t water the weeds or garden paths.
Since drip irrigation is a low pressure system, you can be even more water efficient by connecting garden hoses to a water barrel, slightly elevated, connected to your gutter’s downspouts and use gravity to water your garden plants with free rain water.
We all need to help do our part in the sustainability of water
Only 3% of all the water in the world is fresh water, and two thirds of that water is frozen in glaciers or otherwise not accessible.
Fresh water sources around the globe have become stressed and are drying up, or are too polluted to use, and over half of all our wetlands have vanished. Climate change has altered weather patterns and has caused severe flooding in some areas and water shortages and droughts in other parts of the world.
Two-thirds of the world’s population will probably experience water shortages by 2025, and by 2050 the planet will have to provide additional energy and food for 2–2.5 billion more people, while still struggling to meet the water needs of over a billion people.
As responsible homeowners, renters, or even roommates we can all do our little part to help conserve this valuable resource, one home at a time.