By Julie Wilson
Water is the essence of life. Humans are bound to this universal mandate as is any other form of life, but how we differ is our ability to control consumption and preserve what is perhaps the most precious gift that the universe has given us.
If consumption continues as is, many predict that by 2020 water will be more valuable than gold. Even though 70 percent of the planet is covered in water, just 3 percent of it is fresh, and only 1 percent of that freshwater is readily accessible for human use.
Long-term sustainability isn’t just suggested, but required. A number of factors have helped dwindle water supplies in the U.S., including development in regions with scarce to no water supply, aging water infrastructure and continued economic growth. The demand for public water has grown consistently over the past 60 years and isn’t expected to slow any time soon.
The 225 largest cities, which host 54 percent of the U.S. population, confirmed that water availability is a “widespread issue,” according to recent analysis.
Despite the direness of the situation, information about effective ways to save water remains unclear, but a new article entitled The Water Short List: The Most Effective Actions U.S. Households Can Take to Curb Water Use provides individuals with information on how to reduce household usage by using a variety of technical upgrades and behavioral changes, known as “curtailments.”
According to the report, which was published in the July/August issue of Environment magazine, Americans use about 98 gallons per capita per day; in comparison, only roughly 13.2 gallons is needed to fulfill daily basic needs.
The good news it that water misuse isn’t necessarily reckless and intentional but most likely occurs due to consumer ignorance. Americans seem to have severe misconceptions about which practices are most effective for conserving water, according to one of the study’s authors, Shahzeen Z. Attari.
Surveys about water conservation showed that most people attributed activities like taking shorter showers to saving water, rather than effective practices related to toilets. In fact, overall, survey respondents underestimated residential water usage by a factor of 2 on average, with many underestimating the amount of water used during high-water-usage activities.
The water short list is based on population averages and a very general estimation of a theoretical 2.6-person household, and therefore should be interpreted only as guide. Geographic location is also an important variable, particularly when it comes to outdoor water use.
The recommendations include “efficiency-improving actions” and “curtailment actions,” both of which were calculated using a comprehensive study that measured how American households use water.
Efficiency-improving actions involve a one-time technology upgrade or modification to water-using appliances, which typically includes costs upfront but saves money long-term. Curtailment actions are behavioral practices that must be repeated in order to be effective.
Below are five ways to save water using both efficiency and curtailment actions
Water-efficient toilets — Flushing your toilet accounts for 38 percent of indoor water use. By installing a WaterSense-labeled toilet and water-saving insert, you can conserve almost 20 percent of your indoor water use.
Install a water-efficient washing machine — Replacing your clothes washer with an ENERGY STAR-labeled machine helps save 16.7 percent of your indoor water use.
WaterSense-labeled faucets — By using a flow-reducing aerator, you can save up to 5.4 percent of your indoor water use, and if you reduce faucet running time by at least two minutes per day, you can conserve another 4.4 percent.
Use rainwater collection system for irrigation — Using a rainwater harvesting system can save up to 100 percent on outdoor water usage.
Replace outdoor turfgrass and plants with water-wise landscaping — Using regionally appropriate turfgrass will help curb watering practices, thus greatly reducing outdoor water usage.