Few technological advances have been as widely welcomed as indoor plumbing. Hot water piped right into our tubs and sinks, and wastewater piped right out. It’s an amazing thing. Unfortunately, water is a finite resource.
As much as we like to think we can use it freely, it can and will run out. If we want to ensure we have enough to support our future, we need to recognize that finite nature. That means using less where we can.
There are a lot of sustainable water solutions that are easy to turn into a reality. Making just a few minor changes can make a big difference. Let’s look at what sustainable water use is, why it’s important and how we can change our behavior to support it.
What is Sustainable Water Use?
At its root, sustainable water use comes down to recognizing our water usage and taking steps to manage it. We don’t need to do it all at once. Maybe you love your long showers but could save water on the lawn or laundry. Every little bit helps, and the more people we have engaging in sustainable water solutions, the better. Let’s look at why sustainable water management is so important.
Why Is Water Sustainability Important?
Before we dig into sustainable water solutions, let’s look into why water sustainability is important.
Water is one of the few resources that all living things on earth absolutely cannot do without. Humans can only live a few days without it, and the food we require for survival needs it too. Even though the earth is roughly 71% water, most of it is undrinkable. It’s either too salty to drink, or it’s locked in glaciers. The small amount that remains needs to be around for our usage to sustain living.
Unfortunately, as our standard of living has risen on this planet we have also developed some bad habits surrounding water usage. For most of us alive today, water has always been available without us having to think much about where it comes from and how we access it. We simply turn on a faucet and water flows. This has supported our development of wasteful water habits, which has put a strain on our usable water supply.
Here are a few of our most problematic habits and some sustainable water solutions that can help change them.
Common Habits Requiring Sustainable Water Solutions
The choices we make every day have a huge impact on water conservation efforts. It may seem like you need to make drastic changes to make a difference, but that’s not true. Small steps add up when more people take them. Minor changes have a big impact when more people make those changes. The most impactful changes address the most wasteful behaviors. So, which activities will make water resources unsustainable?
Overuse of Water
The first item we need to cover is simply using less water. Many of us let the taps run freely for years, and that’s part of the reason we must now conserve. Letting water run when we’re not using it is a huge waste, and it’s preventable. Let’s look at some easy, sustainable water solutions that can reduce consumption in our everyday lives.
Turn Off the Water When Brushing Your Teeth and Washing Dishes
One common way we waste water is by allowing the water to run when brushing our teeth or washing dishes. Both activities require water, but neither one requires an open tap throughout. Try turning the water off when you’re scrubbing. You’ll be surprised at how much less water you use. You may even get a nice little surprise on your water bill when you see the cost of using water in your home go down.
Use the Dishwasher
Most dishwashers use considerably less water than hand washing. That’s because dishwashers recycle water throughout the cycle and use fresh water to rinse at the end. Running a full load has always been the most energy efficient, but that’s slowly changing.
New, high efficiency washers use less water even when running small loads. That means you can run it more often and gain the added benefit of cleaner dishes. Giving them more space means more hot water can get to the soiled spots.
Save up Laundry and Wash Larger Loads
Laundry, however, does not work quite the same as dishes. When it comes to cleaning your clothes, it is almost always better to hold off until you have a full load. Many washing machines will use the same amount of water, no matter the load size. If you’ve only got a few items, that means a lot of water gets wasted.
The one caveat to this is that new machines are becoming much more efficient. Load sensing technology is now allowing us to save water on smaller loads. Still, it’s always best to throw in a few extra items.
Unsustainable Food Choices
The food we eat requires a lot more water to produce than most of us realize. In fact, food production uses more water than many of the world’s biggest industries. When we make unsustainable food choices, it impacts the availability of water for all of us. Here are some sustainable water solutions that address unsustainable food choices.
Reduce Food Waste
Eating the food we buy instead of throwing it away unconsumed is one of the easiest sustainable food choices we can make. According to the FDA, between 30 and 40% of the US food supply gets wasted. Much of that waste occurs at the retail and consumer levels. We can do better.
By eating the food we have purchased not only utilizes the money we’ve already spent, but that food also doesn’t need to be replaced by still more food. That means a farmer can save the water that would have gone into its replacement. Many of us throw away perfectly good foods every day. Eating food before it goes bad is much more sustainable. So, why don’t we simply eat more foods that don’t go bad?
Eat More Whole Foods
Aside from their questionable nutrition profile, processed foods use more water to produce than whole foods. It’s not just the edible portion either. All the packaging that goes into preserving processed foods utilize water in their production. Choosing to eat more whole foods helps reduce our water usage footprint. Eating more whole foods means eating foods that look the way they do in nature. Not all these foods are created equally, however.
Reduce Meat and Dairy Consumption
Farmers use more water to produce a pound of meat or dairy than a pound of produce. Not only do those animals need water to survive, but the food they eat also needs water to grow. Since meat and dairy requires more water to produce than fruits, grains and veggies, reducing meat consumption helps conserve water. It also helps us avoid some adverse cardiovascular issues associated with excessive meat consumption.
Choosing Overly Thirsty Landscapes and Gardens
Our landscaping can require a lot of water to thrive. That said, the days of watering lawns for hours on end has come to a close in many drought stricken regions. As we become more aware of where our water comes from and how it is used, lawns start to fall to the bottom of the necessity list. Here are some sustainable water solutions that can help curb water usage in landscaping and gardens.
Choose Native and Drought Tolerant Plants
How much water does our landscaping need? If we use non-native plants that require more water than natural rainfall can provide, then we have created a gap that needs to be filled. This gap can add up to big water bills and a big impact on wasteful water usage. Choosing native and drought tolerant plants that can live on what nature provides is a good example of using water more efficiently.
But, what if you love those water guzzling plants? Don’t worry. There are sustainable water solutions that can help curb water usage even with more thirsty plants. First, a rain barrel can help capture rainwater to be used when needed. Funneling the rain off a roof into the barrel creates a reservoir that can be tapped into at any time and directed where it is needed. Rain barrels are especially useful when summer drought conditions leave an area with a water shortage. An even simpler step is using a flexible downspout to direct water where it’s needed.
Water at the Right Times
The time we choose to water our lawns and gardens makes a big difference. Watering our lawns in the afternoon heat leads to water loss through evaporation. Watering in the evening or early morning can allow more water to seep into the ground. There are ways to water at the right times even if watering in the evening doesn’t fit your schedule.
There are now sustainable water systems for homes that use Wifi to determine watering schedules. These systems skip watering if there is a lot of rain and allow for scheduling watering in different areas on different days.
Learn about Sustainable Water Usage
One of the most sustainable water solutions is learning about what should be done to make water sustainable. The more we know, the more we can incorporate sustainable water solutions into our daily lives. The earlier we get started in learning sustainable water habits, the easier it is to adopt those habits for a lifetime.
Teaching young people sustainable water habits through school outreach programs is one of the best ways to build these habits into the future. Sponsoring water sustainability projects and education outreach programs can have a huge impact on water conservation efforts. NTC teaches water conservation habits to students through school outreach programs. Using schools as a community hub to build these important habits gives young people the tools to conserve water and to teach others in their communities to do it as well. Reach out to learn more about NTC’s water conservation education outreach programs.