The average American family can waste up to 180 gallons of water per week, or 9,400 gallons a year from not addressing household leaks. That adds up to nearly 900 billion gallons of water annually nationwide, which is equal to the annual water use of nearly 11 million homes, according to the EPA.
Those numbers are pretty alarming but how exactly is this unnecessary waste impacting the world around us?
We will take a look at the facts surrounding water consumption and environmental impact and give you a few tips that you can use to minimize wasting water in your area or home.
Why Care About Water Consumption?
The water we use for drinking, bathing–and pretty much everything else–is freshwater.
Surprisingly, freshwater only makes up about 3% of the water on Earth’s surface (United States Bureau of Reclamation 2019). Of that amount, an even smaller .5% is accessible for us to use.
Split across continents, that .5% is all we have to quench the thirst of the roughly 7.6 billion people that make up the global population. Each country receives an allowance of freshwater for drinking, farming, urban applications, and industrial purposes.
Although the water cycle does continually return water to us, it is not always guaranteed to return to the same place or in the same quantity and there is only so much that gets put through that cycle to meet growing population needs.
Freshwater withdrawals have tripled over the last 50 years. Due to these trends, The United Nations World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP) predicts that in 2030, 47% of the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress.
Our world is full of other living things that deserve and require access to clean, safe freshwater as well. When humans overuse water indoors, that leaves less water for these other living things and our whole ecosystem becomes compromised.
Irrigation in Colorado and California
The Colorado River Basin
The Colorado River basin provides water to 30 million people across Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and Mexico. The irrigated land here extends across almost 3.2 million acres within the basin, but water also is taken from the basin to help irrigate another 2.5 million acres.
The irrigation of this much land consumes 70% of the basin’s water supply (not including evaporation or exports), making the Colorado River one of America’s most endangered rivers due to its low water levels according to the policy research organization at the Pacific Institute,
These lower water levels can contribute to higher concentrations of natural and human pollutants – something that we all know is extremely harmful.
Irrigation also directly increases evaporation in irrigated areas. Increased evaporation in irrigated areas can cause instability in the atmosphere.
Former California governor Jerry Brown made an executive order in 2015 that required cities and towns to cut 25% of water use (excluding agriculture) to save an estimated 1.5 million acres of water over 9 months.
The governor explained during the 2013 Water for Food Conference that resilient food systems need to be integrated and that food must come from a variety of sources, recognizing that when we make a decision on moving water from one place to another, impacts are felt somewhere else i.e. the Colorado River Basin.
Expensive Water Treatment Projects
It is important to keep in mind how many resources are used to make water treatment happen.
The operation of wastewater treatment plants results in direct emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, as well as indirect emissions.
Higher demand means we will have to continue to try to make up for the lack of water in other ways. Many of which are costly in terms of energy-efficiency and lacking in terms of results. Incidentally, they often require us to use non-renewable fossil fuels.
For example, pulling freshwater from aquifers and groundwater supplies is one current solution but in the long-term, this is not sustainable. It also decreases long term water security and availability.
Filtering is another means of supplementing water over consumption. The process is lengthy when you factor in transportation, along with the time, money, and energy it takes to extract and filter the water to bring it to a safe, clean state that is safe for use.
Reducing the amount of energy used in pumping and treatment of water decreases the carbon emissions that lead to climate change and if we use less chemicals in the treatment of water and wastewater that means that less energy and materials are used in their production. There are also less by products to deal with.
Reducing waste in homes means the reduction of the amount of water that has to be treated or that uses energy. Water that goes down the drain without being properly used is a waste and costs more than just a few extra dollars a month on your bill.
How You Can Do Your Part
There are many ways we can reduce water consumption and save on utility bills – but we should also want to save water to maintain our way of life and the environment around us.
Ultimately, communities need to work together to lower their overall consumption on a larger scale. Often, this begins in the home and extends outward into towns and cities. Here are some ways you can do your part to improve water use in your home and community.
Watch for Leaks and Upgrade Appliances
Remember our statistic at the top of this post about household water leaks?
Unfortunately, some water leaks are difficult to spot, even when an individual is physically present 24/7. When people are not present 100% of the time, there is also the risk of pipes bursting while they are away and a ton of water loss. These can be costly, especially when left unchecked and directly contributes to waste.
Keep an eye out for higher-than-usual water bills. If something seems amiss, you may need to call in an expert to pinpoint the issue.
New energy-efficient home upgrades use less water than older models, but to further reduce your water usage, you can replace old appliances to save money and reduce consumption at an individual level.
At the community level, implementing rebate programs and other initiatives is a great way to encourage people to upgrade to energy efficient appliances.
(Recommended Read: How to Reduce Water Consumption and Save)
Make the Switch to Submetered Utilities
To reduce water consumption on a large scale, property owners can switch to submetered utility bills. Submetering is a system that measures individual utility use rather than billing a fixed amount for everyone.
If you’re a property manager, submetering adds value to your property while also benefiting the community at large.
With this system, tenants are held accountable for individual water use. In the long run, this benefits both owners and tenants, preventing users from paying for their neighbor’s water.
Educate and Encourage Others
On an individual basis, starting conversations about the impacts of wasting water on the environment is a great way to encourage water conservation in your community.
Lead by example, taking the necessary steps to save water in your own home. Then inform others about the benefits of reducing water consumption.
Understanding How We Use Water
The best way to change your existing habits is to know what they are. When it comes to water usage, sometimes there are certain aspects are outside our control. Leaks and other problematic events often go undetected under the noses of even the most vigilant users.
As we said, monitoring your water bill for sudden spikes is a great place to start when checking for issues. Unfortunately, it provides limited information about how water is used on an individual basis.
New technology is available that allows us to gain insight and monitor water usage instantly.
The Subeca Engage platform, for example, offers a user-friendly dashboard with clear visibility into water use. The consumer dashboard lets end users set goals, receive alerts, shut off water in emergencies, see their water usage in real-time (in gallons, dollars or billing units), and receive helpful water saving tips.
Start Reducing Your Water Consumption Today
At Subeca, we place top priority on helping both commercial water agencies and residential users conveniently conserve, control, and manage their water. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 800-366-2271 to discuss more about our smart water management system.