With the news that authorities in Southern California are imposing strict water use restrictions on an estimated 6 million people, many of us are looking for practical ways to conserve.
We’ve all been through this exercise so many times, because some of the obvious water-saving steps have become almost second nature. Less lawn watering. Shorter showers. Fewer hot flashes.
But as you cut back on your water use at home, experts warn that pinches and tucks alone can’t pull us out of the multi-year drought we find ourselves in.
One reason is that residential users represent only a small slice of the water use pie. About 80% of the water used in the state is for agriculture, Kelly Sanders, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at USC, told The Times last year. The remaining 20% is urban use, she said, which roughly splits in half between indoor and outdoor use.
“While individual actions are essential to solving huge environmental problems like climate change and drought, they are still insufficient,” Jason Mark, editor of Sierra Club Sierra magazine, told The Times last year. He described it as “addition where we need multiplication”. This multiplication takes the form of better public policies, pressure on government officials to address these issues, and lifestyle changes to reduce dependence on high-consumption products and plants. of water.
With that in mind, here are some tips for saving water with things that are within your control – plus an idea for changing the way you think about water and what it could mean in your life.
1. Tear up your lawn
Or at least sprinkle a lot less water on it. Californians’ facades became a major focus of the 2016 water reduction campaign. There’s a reason for that: they’re lush and water-guzzling. Heather Cooley of the Pacific Institute, a think tank that identifies and advances sustainable water policies, told The Times last year that watering the average lawn in Southern California uses about 40 to 80 gallons. Comparatively, she said, turning off the faucet while you brush your teeth saves four to five gallons, and cutting your shower time by two minutes saves five.
2. Replace non-native plants
Beyond your lawn, plants that aren’t native to Southern California likely absorb more water than those that evolved to thrive here. You have many options. And as a bonus, the natives help the birds and the bees.
3. Find and repair leaks
Keep an eye on your water bill. If it rises higher than normal for no good reason, check for a leak somewhere. Depending on the type of water meter you have, you may be able to monitor the meter with all of your water turned off and see if anything is still moving through your system. You can also invest in a smart leak detector to notify you immediately if something goes wrong.
4. Replace old appliances, showerheads and toilets
How old is your toilet? If it’s from before 1990, Cooley said, it could use up to six gallons per flush. Newer toilets may use 1.28 gallons or less. Cooley said they can save 33 gallons per household per day. And a new showerhead can save 12. Upgrading your dishwasher, washing machine, and other water-intensive appliances will also pay savings dividends, both in cost water and energy,” Cooley said.
5. The little things can add up
You’ve probably heard these tips before, but consider this a refresher lesson:
- Don’t let the water run while you’re washing dishes in the sink or while you’re washing, brushing, or shaving.
- Only run washing machines and dishwashers when you have a full load.
- Make peace with the layer of dust on your car.
- If you’re waiting for the shower to warm up, place a bucket in it and use that water for your houseplants.
- Check that your sprinkler system is not watering your driveway.
- Use a broom instead of a hose to clean porches, sidewalks and driveways.
- Water outdoor plants in the morning or evening so you don’t lose as much H2O through evaporation in the midday sun.
And now a bigger picture
There are ways to save water that don’t directly involve your household use.
“One of the things that people can do a little more nebulously is think about their indirect water footprint,” Sanders said. “’How much water is incorporated into the products I buy? How much water does it take to irrigate the fruits and vegetables I eat? Meat, beef in particular, is a resource-rich food. It takes a lot of water to get a cow from the beginning of its life to the end of its life. That’s a lot of food that needs to be irrigated.
(She added, however, that some of the criticism of agriculture isn’t fair. We need to eat, after all, and some water-intensive crops, like almonds, are economically important to the state.)
So think carefully about what you consume, both in terms of what goes into your mouth and on your body. A new cotton T-shirt consumes over 650 gallons of water on its way into existence. A pound of plastic costs 22. It takes over 3,000 to make a new smartphone. It takes more water to make a one-liter single-use plastic water bottle than that bottle can hold. contain.
Again, these choices will save water but won’t solve the larger problem. Ultimately, the most significant changes will come from political action. Ask your local and national authorities to support water saving legislation and enforce it once it is passed. Attend a city council meeting and ask about your community’s plans to improve water conservation. You can start even smaller than that: Ask your homeowners association to replace lawns with native plants. Submit letters to the editor of your local newspaper about issues you see in your community. (Here’s how to send one to us.)
“We should – both as individuals, as households – do everything we can to use less water, use less electricity, use less fossil fuels,” Mark said, and “at the same time, doing everything in our power to convince those in power to change the rules of the game.
So be the drop in the proverbial bucket. Then use this bucket to water your plants.