Ok y’all, it’s time to talk about water. That good stuff we the privileged can’t seem to drink enough of but always have available to drip, rush, freeze, boil, or steam with abandon. A necessity and a luxury, water has been the foundation of human civilization since our Tigris and Euphrates days. It’s so ubiquitous we sometimes forget how precious it is. But it’s essential, and it’s not guaranteed.
Especially because, well... climate change. According to the United Nations, ”Water is the primary medium through which we will feel the effects of climate change. Water availability is becoming less predictable in many places, and increased incidences of flooding threaten to destroy water points and sanitation facilities and contaminate water sources. In some regions, droughts are exacerbating water scarcity and thereby negatively impacting people’s health and productivity.”
And in the Western US (among many other places in the world), we’re feeling the effects of years of low precipitation and hotter temperatures culminating in record-breaking drought and water shortages now and on the horizon.
Sooo like we said, now feels like a pretty good time to start talking about and rethinking our relationship with water. As with all the bummers of climate change, we like to look at the opportunities we have to make seemingly small adjustments that will add up to sizable impact when we make them habits and do them together.
So here are some places to start. Pick one that feels the most approachable or one that you feel like is your most glaring area of opportunity (I’m looking at you, fellow long shower takers!). Do that thing and make it a habit. Then come back and choose another. Rinse and repeat, so to speak.
*Hint: the sections are in order from most to least estimated impact (varies by person and household) starting with the big one -- diet!
- Eat less beef. It takes 1,799 gallons of water to produce 1 lb of beef compared to 576 gallons for 1 lb of pork and 216 gallons for 1 lb of soybeans. If you do eat beef, stick to pasture-raised cows that require less water because they spend their whole lives eating grass that is primarily rain-fed as opposed to industrial cows that eat feed sourced from irrigated crops like corn, wheat, and soy.
- Eat more plants. 92% of our daily water impact comes from the food we eat, adding up to 3,496 liters per day! Animals and animal products generally require more water per unit of nutritional value than plants and produce more greenhouse gas emissions, so eating a more plant-based diet is a powerful way to reduce your footprint. (Don’t know where to start? Check out this blog post!)
- Opt for oat, soy, hemp, or coconut milks over cow, almond, or rice milk.
- Choose whole rather than processed foods, which take extra water and energy to produce, or learn to make your own versions!
- Avoid wasting food. It’s the same as water down the drain, and food waste is one of the leading emitters of greenhouse gases.
- Buy fewer new clothes and textiles. Producing the cotton it takes for one t-shirt uses 400 gallons of water and 1,800 gallons for a pair of jeans. (Learn how to adopt a capsule wardrobe here.)
- Buy used instead of new cars. A new car takes 39,090 gallons of water to manufacture.
- Consume less altogether. The water used in the production of industrial products from growing the materials to the manufacturing process adds up to 167 liters of water per person per day on average! Buying less stuff means less stuff will get made and less water will get used.
- Choose products made from sustainable materials like hemp, lyocell, and bamboo that require less water.
- 35% of our domestic consumption of water is from bathing! Take shorter showers OR shower less frequently, and reduce baths.
- Turn off the water in the shower while you’re shaving, lathering up, or brushing your teeth.
- Don’t use the toilet just to throw stuff away.
- Consider implementing a policy in your home of “letting it mellow if it’s yellow” instead of flushing the toilet after every bio break.
- Turn off the sink faucet in between rinsing your hands, teeth, or face.
- Avoid turning your faucets on full blast.
- Fill a jar or cup of warm water to rinse your razor instead of running water.
- Collect the water you run in the shower in a bucket to use for watering plants.
- Only run the washing machine and dishwasher with full loads.
- Use “light wash” or “energy saver” modes.
- When buying a new dishwasher or washing machine, choose options with energy saver or water saving benefits.
- Use the dishwasher instead of hand washing. A full load of dishes in the dishwasher uses 7-14 gallons of water depending on how efficient the dishwasher is compared to 9 gallons of water if you fill up the sink and rinse in there or 30 gallons if you keep the tap on while you wash.
- Clean produce in a bowl of water instead of under running water using a DIY veggie spray.
- Similarly, fill up the sink or a basin with water when washing or rinsing dishes.
- Compost food scraps instead of using the garbage disposal when possible.
- Use unsalted pasta water to water plants.
- Collect rainfall for irrigation or watering using a container with a screen over it to avoid mosquito larvae.
- Add compost to your soil to improve water retention.
- Add mulch around shrubs and flower beds to reduce evaporation and control weeds.
- Water plants during cool parts of the day, either at dusk or early in the morning to minimize evaporation from the summer heat and conserve water.
- Allow plants to become more drought tolerant by watering well and ensuring all layers of the root zone are wet when watering. Light watering leads to shallow rooting of plants, which makes them less drought resistant.
- Avoid watering lawns or stick to just once a week. Grass will grow back after it rains. Just avoid excessive walking on dry, brown grass, which can cause bald patches.
- When mowing your lawn, set the lawn height to 2-3 inches. Keeping the grass a little longer helps provide shade, which improves moisture retention and allows it to grow thicker, develop a deeper root system, and become more drought resistant.
- Less lawn. More native and drought resistant plants.
- If you use sprinklers, position them to 0° so the water isn’t wasted in the atmosphere or watering the sidewalk or driveway. Or convert to drip or sub soil watering.
- Control weeds to reduce competition for water.
- Use a soil moisture meter to find out when is the right time to water your plants.
- Fix leaky faucets.
- Install faucet aerators.
- Repair leaky toilets. You can tell if your toilet is leaking by putting a drop or two of food coloring in your tank and seeing if color appears in the bowl an hour later.
- Install a toilet dam.
- Install a low flow showerhead.
- If you don’t already have a low flow toilet, add a plastic bottle or two full of sand to your toilet tank so the toilet uses less water to flush.
- Install an adjustable toilet flapper.
- Install a low or dual flush toilet or a composting toilet and avoid old water hog toilets (even if you have an older house). New toilets come in a vast array of styles and use a quarter of the water or less in some cases (1.28 gallons per flush or less vs. 3 to 5 gallons per flush).
- Insulate your water pipes to get hot water faster and avoid wasting water while it heats up.
- Don’t remove flow restrictors that come installed on faucets and shower heads.
- If you have to filter your water, invest in a modern reverse osmosis system that has a lower waste ratio, 1:1 or less instead of 1 cup filtered to 4 cups lost, or buy a high quality single filter system. Or opt for Charcoal Water Filter Sticks!
Home & Car Maintenance
- Use a broom to clean off porches, driveways, and walkways instead of the hose.
- Cover swimming pools and hot tubs to reduce evaporation.
- When washing your car, wet it quickly, lather it up using a bucket of soapy water, and either let the rain wash it off or do a final rinse with a hose.
Want to find out the most impactful ways for you to lower your water footprint? Take the water calculator quiz from watercalculator.org!
Tell us how you’re planning to change up your water habits!