Winter Water Saving Tips: The Summer is Over, But Not the Drought

By Loren McDonald

As winter approaches for residents of Diablo Valley, now is not the time to lose sight that California continues to experience one of its worst droughts in recorded history.

Governor Brown declared a state of emergency in January, which included a voluntary request that citizens reduce water usage by 20%. Locally, the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) asked customers to reduce usage by 10%, and while they have met the goal, it really isn’t enough.

Hopefully, winter will bring plenty of snow and rain to Northern California, but we can’t count on it and residents must continue to reduce our use of water both inside and outside of our homes.

The average person living in a single-family home within the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), used 175 gallons per day in 2013. That’s a lot of water, but there are several ways, many costing nothing or very little, that can reduce your water usage significantly.

Get a Handle on Your Current Water Usage

The first step in saving water is to understand your current usage and where opportunities exist to cut back. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Read your water bill and compare previous years and billing periods.
  • Are your summer months off the charts? Have you reduced or increased your usage in the past year?
  • Compare winter months’ bills to summer months to get a handle on your irrigation usage.
  • Test for leaks. Place a toothpick on your water meter and then don’t use any water for 30 minutes and look to see if the needle moves. If it does, you have one or more leaks inside or outside your home. If you have separate valves for the yard and house, turn off one so you can isolate if the leaks are inside or outside and then watch again to see if the meter needle still moves.
  • Test your toilets for leaks. A kit with a blue die tablet is available from EBMUD.

Once you have a sense of your water usage and if you have any leaks, create a game plan to reduce your consumption. Tackle bad family habits first, such as taking long showers and overwatering your yard. Depending on your budget, replace inefficient appliances, showerheads and toilets.

In your yard

Thirty percent of residential water usage in the United States is devoted to outdoor uses, with the majority of this used for irrigation, according to the EPA. And half of outdoor water use is typically wasted according to the EBMUD.

To reduce your winter outdoor water usage, consider the following tips:

  • Turn off sprinklers and use your manual mode to turn them on for a day here or there during any lengthy winter dry spells.
  • Replace inefficient sprinklers with drip irrigation.
  • Upgrade a conventional irrigation controller to a smart system – either weather- or soil moisture-based.
  • Fix leaks and any broken pipes. Dig up those buried sprinklers and cap them off if not needed.
  • Replace thirsty lawns with drought-resistant trees and plants.
  • Give rain barrels a try – perhaps for a winter vegetable garden or raised bed near your rain gutters.
  • Cover your garden with mulch and put that compost you’ve been brewing to good use to improve soil condition.

Inside the Home

About half of the water used indoors is from the bathroom, according to the American Water Works Association Research Foundation. Here are a few tips to cut back water use inside your house:

  • Toilets are typically the highest user of water inside the home, from 28% to 40%, according the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Replace older toilets that might use 3 to 6 gallons per flush (GPF) with models that use 1.28 to 1.6 GPF. Don’t worry, many of these low GPF toilets flush better than your older, water guzzlers.
  • Replace older showerheads that typically flow at 2.5 gallons per minute (GPM) with a newer low-flow type that emits as low as 1.5 GPM. Many use aerating techniques to make the water flow feel just as powerful as the older, higher GPM models.
  • Capture the cold water flowing to your showerhead in a bucket or jug. Use this “warming-up water” in the winter to water houseplants, outdoor containers and winter gardens.
  • Wash clothes and dishes using full loads. If your appliances are old, consider replacing them with more energy and water-efficient models.
  • Install low-flow water faucet aerators in bathrooms and kitchen sinks.
  • Turn off the tap when hand washing dishes and brushing your teeth.
  • Use this winter to get your water usage under control by changing family habits and replacing inefficient toilets, showerheads and water-sapping lawns. Many of these purchases also qualify for rebates from EBMUD. (www.ebmud.com)

Reducing your water usage is not only becoming a necessity in California, but also saves you money on your water bill. So get started and start saving!

Loren McDonald is a Danville resident, member of the Sustainable Danville Area organization and blogs about green issues at Loren-Green.com

Reprinted by permission: Danville Today News

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