This World Water Day, March 22nd, The Nature Conservancy is offering simple tips for saving water and helping to restore rivers and lakes around the world.
"World Water Day was established by the United Nations to help create awareness about water issues such as lack of clean drinking water, droughts and hydropower," said Brian Richter, co-director of The Nature Conservancy's global freshwater program. "Today, studies about damaged and threatened freshwater systems are appearing with increasing frequency but there are small and tangible steps that each of us can take to help reduce our impacts."
Virtually all living things depend upon properly functioning rivers, lakes and wetlands for survival. Freshwater systems provide a wealth of natural services that support strong economies, such as sustaining fisheries, delivering nutrients to floodplains, wetlands and estuaries, moderating floods and droughts, purifying water supplies by absorbing pollutants, decomposing waste, and providing a source of drinking water to billions around the globe.
Although lakes and rivers occupy only 0.8 percent of Earth's surface, these systems have lost a greater proportion of their species and habitats than land or oceans, and the growing human population is placing ever-greater demands on available freshwater supplies. While many parts of the world look to expand water usage to grow food, generate electricity and support industrial production, over 1 billion people live without access to clean drinking water. It is estimated that every eight seconds, a young child dies from lack of water or a waterborne disease.
In the United States alone, we use anywhere from 80 to 100 gallons of water per person every day, for drinking, cooking, showering, washing clothes and dishes, watering our lawns and flushing toilets. This is the highest personal water consumption rate in the world. Because this water comes from rivers, lakes, reservoirs or wells, the more water we use the larger the impact on the environment.
With a few small, simple changes, you can help reduce your water use, leaving more water in the rivers, lakes and other freshwater sources. These changes will also result in a lower water bill so should benefit your home finances as well:
- Consider cutting a little water usage from your morning routine. Does anyone really need to shower for more than 5-10 minutes? Keeping a timer in your bathroom will remind you to wrap up and get out. And please turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth and while applying soap to your dirty dishes. All that perfectly clean tap water is just going down the drain.
- If a home renovation is in the cards, splurge on low-flow and water-efficient appliances they'll save you money in the long-run. A front-loading washing machine, for example, uses 40-60% less water than top-loading machines -- and 30-50% less energy.
- Even a new toilet can save you water! New technology can help you limit the gallons used each time you flush. And there are more old-fashioned ways to save water, too: if you can't install a low-flow toilet, reduce the amount of water used by placing a jar or other closed container full of water into your toilet tank.
- Install low-flow shower heads and sink spigots, which can both be purchased at your local hardware store, or contact your water utility company to find out if they distribute them for free. Low-flow shower heads reduce water by an average of five gallons per minute- and with today's advanced models, you won't be sacrificing water pressure. In a year, a low-flow shower head can save over 5,400 gallons of water.
- When running the dishwasher, make sure it's full to get the maximum use per drop. There's no need to pre-rinse, since most of today's models can handle any kind of grime. An added environmental bonus: save energy by turning off the auto-dry setting and letting your dishes dry naturally.
- Check for--and hastily repair-- leaky pipes and faucets. The tiniest leak has far greater impact than you'd think. In fact, many cities lose 40 to 60 percent (or more!) of their water supply due to leaky pipes. Use the U.S. Geological Survey's leak calculator to see how much water is lost through your drips:http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/sc4.html
- Don't use your sinks and drains as trash cans, and dispose of oil and other toxic materials properly. Just one gallon of oil reaching the sewer can contaminate one million gallons of fresh water. As a side note, don't flush pills down the toilet, either. These chemicals and hormones can end up in our drinking water supply, and it's difficult to filter them all out. In fact, a recent investigation found trace amounts of pharmaceuticals in the water supplies of 24 major metropolitan areas, and the human and environmental consequences are still unknown. A better solution than flushing: return excess medication to your pharmacy.
- Reduce water use in your own yard. Try collecting rainwater by placing containers at the end of each gutter. It's perfect for watering your garden. Water your lawn or garden in the morning or the evening when the water will evaporate less rapidly. Adjust sprinklers to avoid the pointless watering of sidewalks or paved areas. Sweep patios and sidewalks rather than hosing them, which wastes water and carries contaminants into freshwater systems. Limit pesticide use. Pesticides are the only substances we intentionally introduce into our environment to kill living things, and besides being potentially dangerous to people, pets and wildlife, they'll eventually be carried into our freshwater supply by runoff.
- Take the easy way out and hit the car wash. A car wash typically uses about 32 gallons of water per vehicle, but the EPA estimates (http://www.epa.gov/owow/nps/nps_edu/stopx2.htm) that washing it yourself can use up to 500 gallons of water…not to mention loads of your time and energy.
- Take advantage of recreation opportunities on local lakes and rivers, and learn about the wildlife they support. It will help you understand what we could lose if we don't manage our water wisely.