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10 Easy Ways to Conserve Water
The amount of drinkable water per person is dramatically shrinking. In fact, the availability of freshwater will decrease by 33 percent within the next 50 years due to an astronomical growth in population and a giant flux in weather patterns. Of the Earth's seeming wealth of water, only 2.5 percent is fresh water, and most of that is locked away in glaciers and ice caps, according to Global Water Policy Director Sandra Postel. Of that available fresh water, only a tiny amount is both drinkable and renewed by precipitation.
In many important agricultural regions -- including California's Central Valley and the southern Great Plains -- farmers are pumping water from aquifers faster than it can be replenished. The delta of the Colorado River, which has been diverted to provide water to seven U.S. states and Mexico, used to host a lush ecosystem comprised of hundreds of species of plants and wildlife. Now, because the river no longer reaches the Sea of Cortez, it's a landscape of salt flats, muddy pools, and cracked earth. Many waterways around the globe share the fate of the Colorado river.
Be a part of the solution with these 10 simple water conservation steps:
1. Install low-flow showerheads, taps, faucets, and toilets. According to the Albuquerque Water Conservation Office, older faucets use between 3 and 7 gallons per minute, while low-flow aerators reduce flow to 1.5 gallons per minute. Likewise, a low-flow toilet can reduce water used per flush by 30 percent, from approximately 5 gallons to 1.6 gallons.
2. Turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth, shaving, washing your hands, or rinsing dishes or vegetables. Each minute you have it off saves at least 3 gallons. In the shower, get wet, turn off the water to lather, then turn the water back on to rinse. To make this easy, some low-flow showerheads have levers to temporarily stop the water flow.
3. Fix dripping taps and leaking toilets by replacing washers and worn parts. A faucet drip or invisible leak in the toilet will waste up to 15 gallons of water a day, or 5,475 gallons a year. To check for toilet leaks, add 10 drops of food coloring to the tank. Wait 15 minutes. If color appears in the bowl, you have a leak.
4. Place plastic jugs filled with sand or stones in your toilet tank to reduce the amount of water it uses per flush. Don't use bricks, which can flake off inside the tank and interfere with the toilet's operation.
5. Wash only full loads in both the dishwasher and washing machine, or set the water levels to accommodate smaller loads.
6. Use biodegradable (phosphate-free) detergents and soaps and re-use dishwater in the garden. If you want to make an even greater impact, consider plumbing your house to a gray-water system that collects water from your sinks, washing machine, baths, and showers for irrigating (check your local water regulations first).
7. Use mulch and shade netting to reduce evaporation in your garden. Mulch helps the soil stay moist, and as an added benefit, reduces weeds, which are water gluttons. Water only when plants wilt or when it's difficult to push a screwdriver into the soil.
8. Xeriscape. In arid regions, plant trees and shrubs that thrive on normal rainfall. Look for a nursery near you that specializes in native plants. Practice composting.
9. Plant densely in your garden. According to Howard-Yana Shapiro in his book Gardening for the Future of the Earth, the denser the vegetation, the more water is stored in what he calls "productive biomass," meaning food plants.
10. Eat less meat. According to the U.S. Geological survey, it takes 2,607 gallons of water to produce a single serving of steak and 408 gallons for a serving of chicken. A handful of almonds requires only 12 gallons to grow, rice needs 36 gallons, and lettuce and potatoes need only 6 gallons each.