Unlike energy, water is a tangible resource; we can control its usage relatively easily. This is a good thing, given that climate change, population growth, and other factors are forcing our rivers to run dry and our lakes and water-table levels to drop. When it comes to making a difference, the seemingly small steps that we take toward reducing our individual âwater footprintsâ (collecting rainwater for plants, taking less-indulgent showers, even observing Meatless Mondays) become ever more important drops in what is ultimately a single global bucket.
We've got a whole host of ways for you to save the precious resource, including taking shorter showers and reducing junk mail.
Toxic materials like paint, oil, harsh cleansers, and medications can eventually make their way into bodies of water. Contact your local sanitation, public works, or environmental health department to find out about hazardous-waste collection days and sites.
Hosing down a vehicle in your driveway can use 60 gallons of water or more in just five minutes. Professional car washes that have been certified by the WaterSavers program use 40 gallons or less per car and return clean water to the environment.
Ford has committed to reducing 30 percent of its water usage per vehicle by 2015. The company also says that between 2000 and 2010 it reduced its total global water use by 62 percent (more than 10 billion gallons).
This fall, Method will bottle its green cleaning products in containers made out of plastic collected from the ocean.
An Oakland, Californiaâbased company called Fogbusters has developed a way to separate fat, oil, and grease from wastewater without using chemicals. Its clients already include such big names as Cargill and Cadbury.
Attaching an aerator to your existing faucet can save you up to 500 gallons a year. We particularly like the Neoperl 1.5 GPM Household Aerator Replacement Kit, which comes with four replacement aerators and a durable wrench for installation.
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Check out your water systemâs Consumer Confidence Report, which will detail contaminants and violations of water-quality standards. (You can find it at epa.gov.) Private wells arenât regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, so if youâve got one of those, youâll want to test it annually.
Put a rain barrel below your gutter downspout and youâll capture a little more than half a gallon of water for every square foot of roof during a one-inch rainfall -- that means a 90-square-foot roof would completely fill a 55-gallon barrel! You can use that bounty to water your garden.
Put a few drops of food coloring in your toilet tank and check the bowl after 15 minutes; if the color has seeped in -- without flushing -- you have a leak. Fixing it can save up to 1,000 gallons (about 200 flushes) a month. Often, whatâs needed is a new flapper, or âvalve seal,â which you can find in just about any hardware store.
Youâre probably already careful about this when brushing your teeth, but what about while rubbing soap on your hands or scrubbing a dish? If you want to score some major points, start taking Navy-style showers: Wet your face and body, shut off the water as you shampoo and lather up, and then finish it all off with a quick rinse.
If the one you currently have fills a one-gallon bucket in less than 20 seconds or drips (wasting up to 90 gallons daily), consider an upgrade. An EPA WaterSenseâlabeled model could save more than 2,300 gallons annually and conserve enough electricity to power your television for a year.
Shaving just one minute off your typical time will save 2.5 gallons of water. Need help? Try the Water Pebble ($10, uncommongoods.com). Placed in your drain, it records your first shower as a benchmark and then takes a few seconds off each subsequent shower, by flashing green, yellow, and red lights to help you pace yourself.
âFood accounts for at least half of your water footprint,â says Kai Olson-Sawyer, a research and policy analyst at Grace Communications Foundation. âEating less meat is the key to reducing it, because of all the water needed to raise the livestock.â Start by skipping red meat -- it takes 1,857 gallons of water to produce a single pound of beef. (Pork, chicken, and lamb require much less.)
âIf a garment has a âCotton Made in Africaâ label, the crops that went into producing it were grown using rainwater rather than irrigated water,â says the NRDCâs McRandle. A Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification is also a plus; it means the wastewater was treated in a plant after processing.
Contribute your dollars or time to one of these results-driven organizations.
The NRDC is raising awareness about stormwater and roof-runoff issues, and about how climate change will impact our water supply. Send letters to your representatives about pending legislation.
Wateraid America improves access to safe water, hygiene, and sanitation in the worldâs poorest communities. Learn how you can help at wateraidamerica.org.