While some Americans insist on pampering thirsty lawns and water-greedy flora – and engage in other water-siphoning practices – innovative means of conservation are cropping up all over the United States, out of necessity or sheer eco-sense. Some can be easily applied by individuals; others require input, or even a policy change, from water-service providers.
“In Marin County (CA), where I live, they take a fairly clever approach that’s driving behavior change. They tell you on your water bill how your water usage compares to last year’s,” says Jason Morrison, a water expert at the eco-driven Pacific Institute in Oakland, CA. “It’s information that’s very easy to read. You can also compare your usage to the county average and to the town average. That kind of information motivates people. Those kinds of policies allow people to become actively involved in utilities issues.”
Something else that’s helped California, as it fights to stay afloat during a drought, is the tightening of specs on new construction, for instance, requiring low-flow plumbing for all new homes. (Old-fashioned toilets use 6 gallons per flush, while the smart and modern ones only take 1.6 gallons or less.)
Water utitilies around the country are finding similar opportunities in conservation.
“Water utilities, in some cases, will subsidize the installation of low-flow toilets and shower heads. And they have good reason,” says Morrison, who specializes in global water issues. “In Southern California, they did that. At first they said, ‘we’ll give you the thing for free,’ and it was so popular, they said, ‘we’ll give you the toilet and install it for you.’… It’s still cheaper than them having to go build a dam, and then piping the water to cities hundreds of miles away.”
Another method that’s helping individuals: free water audits offered by local utilities. In Denton, Texas, for instance, the City offers “voluntary surveys to help customers find ways to conserve water. …”
When requested, the utility will send a trained auditor to not only read the customer’s meter but evaluate irrigation systems, types of landscaping and even install water-saving devices – at no extra charge.
Check your city utility, they may offer more help than you realize. Then consider these tips for turning down the water spigot:
- Plant native: Use indigenous species in your garden and landscape, period. In arid and desert regions, go for drought-tolerant plants, such as succulents, sun-hardy shrubs and wildflowers.
- Irrigate wisely: Use the most efficient ways you know how – and traditional a sprinkler system isn’t one of them; an unregulated hose can crank out 12 gallons per minute!
- Buy water-saving accessories: The AM Conservation Group sells bulk orders of useful items like an adjustable nozzle on your hose, so you can use different settings (from “mist” to “jet”) according to needs and an activator/timer for your water irrigation system, so you can better control when (early mornings or late evenings are best) and how long you water. Many green online retailers are offering innovations like the RoadRunner “smart” shower head that tells you when the water’s warm by slowing water to a trickle until you jump in, at Greenfeet.com.
- Use your garden hose sparingly: Water only the plants that need it most.
- Modify your behavior indoors: Only flush the toilet when it has solid waste or when sanitation dictates. Don’t do major water-guzzling chores in the heat of the day – such as laundry and dish washing. Be sure your dishwasher and washing machines are full before running them. (Purchase water-efficient appliances when possible.)
- Be a water activist: Find groups in your community that aggressively promote water conservation. Even your water utilities probably have educational and volunteer programs that reach into the community. Write to your state congressional representatives to air your concerns about water waste. Contact national or international Non-Government Organizations (NGO’s) to see what you can do to help on a broader level.
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