In storm season, when surface waters often get contaminated by floods, we're reminded of how important it is not to waste clean water. The United Nations estimates that by 2025, 1.8 billion people in the world will be living in absolute water scarcity (less than 500 cubic meters of water per capita annually). In the United States alone, 36 states are anticipating water shortages by 2013.
In the coming age of peak water, what can you do to practice water conservation in your own life?
According to the EPA's WaterSense initiative, the average American uses 100 gallons of water every day. Fortunately, little things like better awareness of how and when you turn on the water can reduce water usage by 30 percent.
For example, a regular bathroom faucet uses two gallons of water per minute, so turning the tap off while you shave or brush your teeth can save 240 gallons a month. Leaky faucets waste 3000 gallons of water per year, while leaky toilets waste 200 gallons per day! So to test whether your faucets leak, read your water meter before and after a two hour interval in which no water is used. Unless the numbers are the same, you have a leak. If you suspect your toilet is leaking, put a drop of food coloring in the tank and wait to see if the water in the toilet bowl changes color. Colored water indicates a leak.
If you want to get really serious about water conservation, it's time to rethink your lawn habits. A whopping 30 percent of a single-family suburban household's water is used outdoors, and 50 percent of that is wasted in runoff or evaporation. Rather than wasting water on swaths of invasive grass, switch to xeriscaping. Xeriscaping uses shrubs, grasses and trees native to your region and is especially useful in the desert, where your drought-resistant plants will continue to thrive when the neighbors' lawns have bit the dust. Check out the EPA's landscaping with native plants fact sheet for tips.
Instead of paying for county water, why not simply collect your own? Rain is free and perfectly safe for outdoor use if collected wisely. You can simply put a big trash can or oil drum underneath your gutters to catch runoff from the roof, or you go eco-warrior, invest in a catchment system, and get off county water entirely. The American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association offers plenty of links to companies and organizations in your area that will help you find and install rainwater harvesting and purification systems for your house.
Story by Rachel Brown. This article originally appeared in Plenty in September 2008. The story was added to MNN.com.