By Melissa Segrest
Green Right Now
The world’s water supply needs protection on all sides. Industrial pollution and human waste contaminate water supplies across the globe, while chemical- and pharmaceutical-laden runoff compromised the water re-supplying our streams and aquifers.
Deforestation and development have drained wetlands, half of which disappeared in the last century.
Climate change is further depleting water supplies. Decreased snow caps and river output across parts of China, Pakistan and India have left 1 billion people without access to safe drinking water, according to the Pacific Institute.
Here are a few facts to consider:
- Globally, 70 percent of fresh water is now used for agriculture. So water is needed to feed the world — and to energize it. In countries like the U.S., the largest consumers of water are industries, with power plants making nearly 40 percent of freshwater withdrawals, according to a 2009 report “Water Scarcity and Climate Change” by Ceres and the Pacific Institute.
- Water supplies are under stress from industrialized food and consumer processes. A study by ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology, that breaks down water use among industries found that the ones that use the most do it indirectly – by way of packaging or processing. The report, detailed in Science Daily, reveals that: $1 worth of sugar takes about 270 gallons of water to make; $1 of dog or cat food sucks up 200 gallons, and $1 of milk consumes 140 gallons.
Given the fact that only .5 of the world’s fresh water is available to humans in the first place (the majority is locked in ice around the polar caps), and the human population is growing (projected to rise to more than 9 billion in 2050), we need a plan.
You’ve done your part to drain water supplies – an estimated 8 percent of the world’s water use is in households, and water supply planners estimate a typical U.S. household uses about 150,000 gallons a year. Adding insult to injury: about 73 percent of the water you use is likely flushed down the toilet or down the shower drain.
So before you take that shower, turn on the sprinklers, wash the dishes, fertilize the lawn or just watch the rain fall, here are seven ways for you to save some of that precious liquid.
1. Let’s start in the bathroom. Your old toilet used three gallons of water per flush. Since 1994, new toilets must use no more than 1.6 gallons of water per flush. New toilets now use as little as 1 gallon per flush, saving thousands of gallons of water a year (and money off your water bill). There are a flood of new dual-flush toilets – one button for liquid waste, another for solid (which calls for more water). They are great water savers, though they can cost more than a regular toilet, prices are coming down. We have found models for just under $200.
While you’re at it, buy low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators to cut even more lost water. Very efficient models can cut the flow of showerheads to 1.4 gallons per minute. Newer showerheads also let you reduce the water flow while you soap and shampoo without changing the temperature. Keep a bucket in the shower and you can collect rinse or gray water for plants.
2. Put away the pesticides. Those chemicals you are killing bugs with and the synthetic fertilizer that makes your yard so very green are leaching into groundwater and washing into runoff. That means something you don’t want to touch your bare hands is flowing into the nearest body of water. That runoff eventually reaches the ocean and hurts beaches and sea life. Use organic fertilizer and natural pesticides. Better yet, let the grass get used to less water during the summer. It will adapt, not die. Better then that: lose the turf and replace it with native plants and stones.
3. Wash your clothes with care. Your clothes washer can suck up about 7,000 gallons a year. Get an Energy Star front loader and the savings are dramatic. Wash a load with cold water instead of hot and you can lop a few more dollars off your energy bill every year (remember electricity-making power plants are big water consumers). Only use the dishwasher when it’s full, and then let everything air dry. You can save hundreds of gallons of water (and electricity) and – surprise – you could end up using less water than if you stand there and wash dishes by hand. (Finally, an excuse.)
4. Skip the car wash. Back in the front yard, stop before you start washing the car. Do it in the driveway and lots of water will flow into runoff . A commercial car wash might use less water than you at home, and some of them treat the water afterward to remove contaminants. There are waterless car washes on the market, or you could just live with a dirty car for a while.