With summer right around the corner and the hot, dry months on the horizon, it is a good time to start thinking about water conservation. Over 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is water, but less than 3 percent of this is fresh water. With water crises happening more frequently around the world, it is clear the continued availability of fresh, clean water is not guaranteed.
There are so many aspects to better managing our water use that we can all chip in to ensure an adequate and healthy water supply for our community, and beyond, for years to come. As follows are some basic conservation principals and actions you can take.
Changing habits should be the first step. It can be a very challenging process, but once accomplished, better habits create enduring results. Through our ability to influence family and friends, and by involving our children in water-saving efforts, habit changes can also have widespread positive impacts.
Some examples of easy habit changes include shortening showers; washing full loads of dishes and laundry; turning water off while brushing teeth and shaving; cleaning driveway, patio and sidewalk with a broom instead of a hose; and irrigating early in the morning. These examples cost nothing to implement, and will typically result in monthly savings on your water (and energy) bills.
Next, repairs and small investments can yield dramatic results in water savings. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, an average household’s water leaks can waste thousands of gallons of water annually!
Easy and inexpensive actions include repairing faucet, toilet and hose leaks; installing water-saving faucets, showerheads and faucet aerators; installing dual-flush valves in toilets; installing watering timers; adding a rain sensor to programmed irrigation systems; and placing an evaporation cover on backyard pools. Cascade Natural Gas and Pacific Power offer free low-flow showerheads and aerators through their respective conservation programs.
Larger investments may include items such as water saving appliances; “smart” irrigation controllers; installing drip and micro-sprinkling systems; and installing an instant water heater near the kitchen sink.
When considering building or taking on major remodels indoors or out, additional opportunities arise to include water-conservation principles. For new construction, following green design principles will result in tremendous water and energy savings. For water conservation, the Environmental Protection Agency has implemented WaterSense certification — a home labeling criteria that focuses on efficient appliances, water saving plumbing fixtures, efficient hot water delivery and zero water leakage for the inside of the home.
For the outside, landscape design and irrigation, and efficient pools and spas are WaterSense’s areas of emphasis. A remodel of your outdoor space can be a formidable undertaking, in terms of time and money, but can also deliver significant water savings. Some important points to consider are the amount and type of turf you wish to maintain; desired uses of the space; needs of family and pets; and existing elements of your yard.
As part of a recent Sustainable Living Center workshop on low-water landscaping, we visited a local garden that highlighted the beauty and versatility of options available in our region. Native and nonnative plants, fountains, fruit trees, herbs, flowers, vegetables and decorative shrubs all combined to create the ideal space.
Finally, we should consider that beyond our own direct use of water, many other lifestyle choices affect our “water footprint.” The foods we eat, how we travel and the items we purchase all influence the amount of water consumed locally and globally. Once we start considering the far-reaching impacts of our choices, we can work to reduce negative impacts.
Erendira Cruz is the executive director of the Sustainable Living Center. She has a bachelor’s degree in business management from Montana State University.