California Drought: Saving Water Not as Hard as You Think

Posted in: Crisis Response, Drought, United States Water News, Water Conservation, Water Crisis
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Leon Jung uses recycled water to irrigate his lawn on Monday, April 6, 2015, in Dublin, Calif. (Photo Credit: Aric Crabb)

Article courtesy of Nicholas Weiler | April 12, 2015 | San Jose Mercury News | Shared as educational material

Like many drought-conscious Californians, Angel Winn is trying to save every last drop of water.

When the San Jose woman washes her car, she parks it on her lawn so that the hose also waters the grass. She takes showers at the gym because the grunginess encourages quick ones. She even saves tap water by giving her dog the leftover water from her gym bottle, as well as ice from her water glass.
“He’s OK with it,” said Winn, 39, a high school counselor. “Plus, he likes the ice.”
Californians are definitely getting creative, water-saving experts say. But if the state’s residents really knew where their main sources of waste were, they might not obsess so much over the small stuff.
Detecting and fixing leaks, slashing outdoor watering to 5 minutes twice a week, limiting showers to 5 minutes each and skipping most toilet flushes will save a gazillion times more water than sharing your water bottle with Fido.
With mandatory water restrictions and hefty fines soon coming down the pipe as the result of Gov. Jerry Brown’s recent order to cut water use 25 percent statewide, state water officials are urging residents to identify the most efficient ways to cut down.
Between last June and February of this year, the average Californian used 106 gallons of water a day, according to the State Water Resources Control Board. That’s down substantially from the nonprofit Pacific Institute’s estimate of 144 gallons per person over a 10-year period ending in 2010, before the current drought.
And Bay Area residents are thriftier than most. During the eight-month period, they used an average of 76 gallons per person per day.

Still, there’s room for improvement, according to a 2014 Pacific Institute study of how water gets used in California households. By cutting back on waste and investing in more efficient fixtures and appliances, the Oakland-based institute says, the average Californian could get by comfortably on 50 gallons per day.

Even conservation-minded Californians are often surprised to find out where they are wasting water, said Chris Dundon, a water auditor with the Contra Costa Water District.

The same people who have buckets in their showers to save a couple of gallons each day, he said, are often over-watering their lawns by hundreds of gallons a week.

“When their sprinklers run, it’s equivalent to 20 showers going off at once,” agreed Peter Brostrom, a water efficiency expert at the state Department of Water Resources. Watering for 10 minutes with 20 sprinklers typically uses about 3,000 gallons.

Contra Costa homeowners love their lawns, Dundon said. “We’re Suburbia, USA.” But, he said, most people are shocked to find out just how much water they use on irrigation. “It’s often a big aha moment for the customer.”

As of 2010, nearly half of California homes were dousing their landscapes with too much water, according to a 2011 Department of Water Resources study of 700 homes across the state. On average, these homes were wasting 160 gallons a day, sometimes by watering too often, other times not realizing that their sprinklers were spraying the sidewalk, rather than the lawn.

Landscaping accounts for about 50 percent of Californians’ residential water use. But Californians without landscaping can make significant savings indoors, where dripping faucets and leaking toilets waste an average of 30 gallons per day, according to the study.

Checking for leaks is simple, said Oliver Symones of the Contra Costa Water District. “Shut off all your water and go look at your water meter. If that meter’s still spinning, you’ve got a leak.”

For smaller leaks, he said, homeowners may need to turn off the water for an hour and check the meter before and after.

Upgrading to more efficient appliances and fixtures can also save more than 20 gallons a day, the Pacific Institute says. Toilets and washing machines account for most of these savings.

Toilets sold before 1994 can dump three to five gallons per flush. Despite regulations banning their sale and water district rebates on newer, more efficient models, there are still millions of old water-guzzling toilets out there, said Matthew Heberger, a senior researcher at the institute.

“People like their old toilets,” he said. “They last forever.”

For people with older toilets, the “if it’s yellow let it mellow” strategy can save 10 gallons or more per day.

“People pee about five times for every time they produce solid waste,” Brostrom said. “There’s huge savings there in terms of flushing only when you have to.”

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