6 Simple Ways to Bring the Water Revolution Home
1. Crunch those water numbers
If you want to get serious about saving water, create a chart to record your daily water use and measure your conservation progress.
To start off, you’ll need to figure out how much water you’re using on a daily basis. You can check your water meter once a day. (Go to h2ouse.org to find how.)
Or when your water bill arrives, calculate your personal use by dividing your total household use in gallons by the number of days in the payment period and the number of people in your house.
Next, scour your home for sources of waste. Fix leaks and replace old water-guzzling appliances and fixtures.
Many local water utilities offer assistance. Some give away water-saving appliance retrofits or offer rebates or will even send water technicians to your house to help you audit your water use.
Switching from a top-loading to a front-loading washing machine saves the average four-person home about 140 gallons a week; a low-flow toilet cuts 288 gallons a week; a water-efficient showerhead, 78 gallons.
Take action: Learn more about water-saving appliances by visiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program: www.epa.gov/watersense
2. Second life for dishwater
If you live in the United States, you probably use about 50 gallons of water per day to bathe and wash dishes and clothes. The resulting “graywater”—so called because soap and grime tint it gray—is great for watering plants. If everyone reused their graywater, our households would suck one-third less water from rivers and aquifers and reduce their wastewater by 60 percent!
You can capture shower and sink water in 5-gallon buckets. Dip out of the bucket to water houseplants, or pour the graywater into the toilet bowl to “bucket flush” the toilet.
Or ask a plumber or handy friend to divert your drain pipes outside. Simple graywater systems are legal in several states and cost $75 to $200 if you do the work yourself. If you live in a wintry place, you can use a diversion valve to reroute your graywater to the sewer when it would freeze outside.
Reuse your graywater in the garden! It’s easy. First, dig 9-inch-deep basins around fruit trees, shrubs, or large annuals like tomatoes. Fill each basin with wood chips (often available free from tree trimmers).
These basins keep graywater from running into neighboring yards. The bark mulch soaks up grease and soap and keeps them from clogging the soil.
Your backyard is now your water treatment plant. Avoid toxic cleansers. And sodium and boron are fine for us, but bad for plants and soil, so buy liquid detergents without these ingredients.
- The California-based water advocacy group, Graywater Action, offers ideas and resources on everything water, from river restoration to installing graywater systems and composting toilets: greywateraction.org
- Want to use graywater in a cold climate? greywateraction.org/content/systems-cold-climates-including-wetlands
- The Water-friendly Backyard
3. Don’t flush it away
Americans flush 4 billion gallons of treated, drinkable water down the toilet each day. But there are other ways to get rid of your waste. For instance, composting toilets are safe, use virtually no water, and, if properly maintained, produce no odors. They aren’t connected to pipes—all of the treatment happens on site. Naturally occurring bacteria turn human waste into compost. Newer designs from companies like Separett or Sun-Mar are compact and attractive.
Composting toilets can be used anywhere. Columnist Susan Carpenter installed one in her Los Angeles home. “After two months, I finally lifted the lid on my composting toilet,” she wrote in The Los Angeles Times. “Without incident, I emptied my bucket [of waste] into the mulch around my lemon tree after diluting it with rainwater.”
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