Conservation does not mean deprivation. You don’t need to take military-style showers or let your yard go fallow in order to save water. “We’re not saying you can’t have a garden,” says Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute. “You can have a beautiful garden that uses a lot less water. You can wash your clothes in a washing machine, flush your toilet, and take your showers with less water.” Here are some ways of becoming more efficient without sacrificing your comfort:
1. Rethink your lawn and garden. Particularly in arid climates, landscaping uses an outsized amount of household water. Consider xeriscaping: creating colorful and well-designed gardens that combine healthy soil, drought-tolerant plants, limited turf, and drip irrigation. (Your cooperative extension can offer guidance.) Even without xeriscaping, there is much you can do: Water in the early morning or evening; mulch heavily; collect rainwater in a barrel; and let your grass grow a little taller to shade the roots and reduce evaporation.
2. Run an efficient kitchen. Buy an Energy Star-rated dishwasher and only wash full loads. If you must wash by hand, fill half your double sink with soapy water and the other half with rinse water. Buy an aerator for your kitchen sink, which will use less water while maintaining pressure. Wash fruits and vegetables in a bowl. Compost leftovers instead of using the garbage disposal in your kitchen sink. Rather than pouring fat down the drain, mix it with seeds and nuts and feed the birds.
3. Clean with care. Shower instead of bathing. Buy a low-flow showerhead. Turn off the tap while you brush your teeth. Buy an energy-efficient clothes washer and only operate it full. Wash your car sparingly with a bucket and sponge.
4. Investigate “gray water.” This is wastewater from your bathtub, shower, washbasin, or clothes washer. It can sometimes be reused for landscaping, composting, and flushing toilets. Because there can be health risks if this is done improperly, gray-water laws vary from place to place. Consult with an expert.
5. Fix your leaks. The trillion gallons we lose each year to household leakage could supply all of Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico, says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. If your winter usage exceeds 12,000 gallons a month for four people; if your meter advances during a two-hour period when you’ve used no water; or if food coloring dropped into your toilet tank migrates to the bowl within 15 minutes, then you need to call a plumber.