How to save water at home to help manage the climate crisis

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The reliability of our faucets delivering water every time we turn them on can make water seem like a never-ending, magical resource.

But abusing the availability of this limited resource can contribute to water scarcity and damage our ability to deal with the impact of the climate crisis.

“Four billion people today already live in places affected by water scarcity at least part of the year,” said Rick Hogeboom, executive director of the Water Footprint Network, an international knowledge center based in the Netherlands. “Climate change will have a worse influence on the balance between supply and demand,” he said.

“If all people were to conserve water in some way, that would help alleviate some of the immediate impacts seen from the climate crisis,” said Shanika Whitehurst, associate director of sustainability for Consumer Reports research and testing. Consumer Reports is a nonprofit organization that helps consumers evaluate goods and services.

“Unfortunately, there has been a large toll on our surface and underground sources, so conservation efforts would need to be employed over the long term for there to be a more substantial effect.”

Yes, businesses and governments should play a role in conserving water by producing “water-efficiently” goods and allocating water sustainably and equitably, respectively, Hogeboom said.

But “tackling the multiple water crises is a shared responsibility. No actor can fix that, nor is there a silver bullet,” she added. “We need all actors to play their parts.”

Contrary to what one might think, water used directly in and around the home makes up a minor part of a consumer’s total water footprint, said Hogeboom.

“The majority – typically at least 95 percent – is indirect water use, the use of water that is hidden in the products we buy, the clothes we wear and the food we eat,” Hogeboom said. “Cotton, for example, is a very thirsty crop.”

Of the more than 300 gallons of water that the average American family uses at home each day, however, about 70 percent of this consumption occurs indoors, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, making the home another place important to start reducing consumption.

Here are some ways to reduce your water footprint as you move from room to room and outdoors.

Since cooking involves washing dishes, cooking, and one of the biggest water users — your diet — it’s a good place to start.

An old kitchen faucet can release 1 to 3 gallons of water per minute when running at full blast, according to Consumer Reports. Instead of rinsing the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, scrape the food into the trash or compost bin. Make sure your dishwasher is fully loaded so you only run the number of wash cycles you need and make the most of your water.

With some activities it is possible to save water not only by using less but also by upgrading the appliances that supply the water. Dishwashers certified by Energy Star, the government-backed symbol for energy efficiency, are about 15 percent more water-efficient than standard models, according to Consumer Reports.

If you wash dishes by hand, plug the sink or use a lavatory so you can use a limited amount of water instead of running the faucet.

If you plan to eat frozen foods, defrost them in the refrigerator overnight instead of running them over water. To drink, keep a pitcher of water in the refrigerator instead of running the faucet until the water cools, and if you must to get hot water, scoop up the cold water and use it to water your plants.

Cook foods in as little water as possible, which can also preserve flavor, according to the University of Toronto Scarborough’s department of physical and environmental sciences.

When it comes to saving water through what you eat, animal products typically use up more water than plant-based alternatives, Hogeboom said.

“Go vegetarian or even better vegan,” he added. “If you insist on meat, replace red meat with pork or chicken, which has a lower water footprint than beef.”

It takes more than 1,800 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef, said Consumer Reports’ Whitehurst.

The bathroom is the largest domestic water consumer, as the toilet alone can use 27 percent of domestic water, according to the EPA. You can cut use here by following this adage: “If it’s yellow, let it sweeten. If it’s brown, throw it down.

“Limiting the amount of flushes, as long as it’s urine, is not a hygiene issue,” Whitehurst said. “However, you have to control the amount of toilet paper to avoid clogging the pipes. If there is solid waste or feces, flush the toilet immediately to avoid unsanitary conditions.

Older toilets use between 3.5 and 7 liters of water per flush, but toilets labeled WaterSense use up to 60% less. WaterSense is an EPA sponsored partnership program.

“There’s probably more to be gained by having dual-flush systems so you don’t waste gallons on small flushes,” said Hogeboom.

By turning off the sink faucet when you brush your teeth, shave, or wash your face, you can save more than 200 gallons of water a month, according to the EPA.

Further reduce water consumption by limiting showers to five minutes and eliminating baths. Shower with your partner when you can. Save even more water by turning it off when you shampoo, shave or soap up, suggests Consumer Reports.

Replacing old sink faucets or shower heads with WaterSense models can save hundreds of gallons of water a year.

Laundries account for nearly a quarter of household water use, according to the EPA. Traditional washing machines can use 50 liters of water or more per load, but newer energy and water-saving machines use less than 27 liters per load.

You can also reduce by doing full loads (but not overstuffing) and choosing the appropriate water level and soil settings. Doing the latter two can help high-efficiency machines use only as much water as needed. If you have a high-efficiency machine, use HE detergent or dose regular detergent, which is more soapy and, if too much is used, can cause the machine to use more water, according to Consumer Reports.

Nationwide, outdoor water use accounts for 30 percent of household use, according to the EPA. This percentage can be much higher in drier parts of the country and more water-intensive landscapes, particularly in the west.

If you prefer to have a landscape, reduce your outdoor use by planting only plants that are suitable for your climate or resistant to low water and drought.

“Climate-appropriate landscaping can use less than half the water of traditional landscaping when maintained properly,” says the EPA.

The biggest consumers of water outdoors are automatic sprinkler systems, according to the EPA. To use only what is needed, adjust the irrigation controllers at least once a month to account for weather changes. WaterSense irrigation controllers monitor landscape and weather conditions to water plants only when needed.

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