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By: mmatty

Smart Water Use

Water is a limited resource—and it’s time that we begin treating it that way.

Maintaining the average American’s lifestyle requires about 2,000 gallons of water per person, per day, according to a National Geographic report. That’s twice the world average water use. The surprising fact is, only 5 percent of that runs through our taps, toilets and garden hoses—the rest is consumed by energy, products and services, including the hamburgers we buy for lunch and the gas we use to fuel vehicles. It all requires water. We are a water-hungry society, and it’s time to pay attention to our faucets and tap into the impact that our water use has on our households, and our communities and the world.

Now, stop for a moment and consider how, and how often, you use water each day. What if you were forced to drastically cut back? In fact, what if you were allotted just 50 gallons per day? (To put this in perspective, the average U.S. family of four uses about 400 gallons per day, according to EPA WaterSense statistics.) Now consider a water restriction that would cut your use by 88 percent. After that “allowance,” the tap would just stop working—nothing would come out.

What would you do if you turned on the faucet in your bathtub to fill up the basin for a nice, warm soak, but the water stopped flowing completely and you were left with 2 inches of lukewarm water in which to bathe? Not exactly the spa retreat you imagined.

Water, a resource that is both necessity and luxury, comes out of our faucets seemingly free, and we probably don’t consider how we would respond if our supply was so limited. Most of us use water like it will never run out. But more today than ever before, we are being reminded of water’s scarcity and how our use impacts availability.

Water is a limited resource—and clean, potable water is even more limited. Mindfulness is a powerful catalyst for change. The more you think about water and how you use it, the more you’ll save. Our individual water use choices matter, and communities in states like California are already resorting to rationing.

Watching Our Water

So, how much water are we using in our homes, and how do we use it?

Of the 400 gallons per day a typical U.S. household uses, an average 70 percent of this water is used indoors, EPA statistics show. The American Water Works Association (AWWA) broke down water usage in the household like this: 16.8% shower, 26.7% toilet, 15.7% faucet, 21.7% clothes washer, 13.7% leaks and 5.3% other.

Think about the number of times you flush a toilet every day, the loads of laundry you

did last week and how often you turned on the bathroom faucet. A bathroom faucet generally runs at 2 gallons of water per minute. (Turn off the tap while brushing your teeth or shaving, and you can save about 200 gallons per month.) Traditional washing machines can use 50 gallons or more of water; high-efficiency models use less than 27 gallons. Older toilets can use 3.5 to 7 gallons of water per flush. Switching to an efficient model can save at least 60 percent per flush.

Still, all of those gallons add up.

The reality is, if we were given just 50 gallons to use per day, most of us would feel like we were camping. But other parts of the world, this allowance would be extremely generous. An African household may allot a gallon of water per person to use for bathing or personal use. That gallon is preserved and used thoughtfully. A “shower” takes on new meaning.

Water scarcity isn’t so far away from our own communities—it’s right next door. In some areas of the country, increased awareness of our water supply is reshaping habits, from the time we spend standing under a hot shower to the number of laundry loads we do when warned that supply is tight.

Water supply concerns are not a third-world issue.

In 2013, more than half of the lower 48 states in the U.S. experienced abnormally dry conditions and suffered from at least moderate drought. More than 80 percent of seven states were in a serious drought, causing water shortage and water restrictions. Those were: Oklahoma, Wyoming, South Dakota, Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas and Nebraska.

We know that there are water reservoirs running out in California, and people seemingly are months away from running out of their supply. Across the country and world, the demand for water is quickly outpacing supply, and the gradual population increase will continue to stress this resource. We’re having “water wars,” such as the dispute where Alabama and Florida are arguing that Atlanta uses too much water supply and is not leaving enough downstream for farmers, municipalities, businesses and endangered shellfish.

But water shortage happens in states and communities that don’t necessarily make the news. Even a temporary municipal boil order following a water contamination issue can force us to consider how we can use water more carefully.

Turning Down the Tap

We have a responsibility to make water count in our households—to be conscious of the “leaks” in our usage that cause waste. If we begin to really measure our use and consider how we would cut back, we can truly make an impact on overall water usage.
So, back to that hypothetical 50-gallon water limit: How would you prioritize water usage and alter your daily routine? How do you use water today, and what can you change tomorrow? Think about drinking water, bathing in it, laundering, flushing the toilet, cooking, cleaning. And there’s waste: running cold water down the drain while we wait for warm water to fill the tub; allowing water to spill from the faucet while we brush our teeth.
It’s time to make changes to our lifestyles—to cut back on wasteful water use and consider alternative water supplies, including water cycling technology that allows us to safely recycle water in our homes. Technology that recycles water at a household level will allow us to take more personal responsibility for our water use. This, in turn, creates more water conscientious communities that work to conserve this precious resource.

Change the Course – National Geographic
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