You Use More Water Than You Think

How much water do you use on a daily basis? Go ahead and think about it. Consider the baths you take, the showers, and however many times you brush your teeth and leave the water running. And don't forget doing your dishes, and shaving, and flushing that toilet. Calculate all those up, give them a few rolls around the noggin, and give an answer.

Now: Double it. Odds are, that's closer to the real amount of water that you use.

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Those are the findings, at least, in a new study by the National Academy of Sciences. Their official summary:

Results show that participants underestimated water use by a factor of 2 on average, with large underestimates for high water-use activities.

The big issue, according to the study, is that most Americans look at the problem with too narrow a scope. When asked what kinds of methods they use to curtail their water usage, the participants in the study provided fixes like not running the water while brushing teeth, flushing the toilet less often, or cutting down on the amount of showers taken each week. All great things to do, and certainly steps in the right direction. But they're band-aid solutions. What's needed during these drastic drought times are more surgical-style fixes.

So, with that in mind, here are three ways you can be doing a better job at conserving water.

Install New Toilets

Cutting down on the amount of times you flush the toilet is all well and good. (Just remember: "If it's brown, flush it down. If it's yellow, let it mellow.") But it also doesn't conserve that much water. This is especially true if it was a toilet installed before 1990. With those, every flush dumps about five gallons of water down the drain. New ultra-low-flush toilets send only about 1.6 gallons per flush which, depending on how many folks you have using the toilet, can mean a whole lot of water conserved.

Best of all, the city of Los Angeles offers rebates of over $100 if you replace your old toilet with a new low-flush one. (The same thing goes for swapping out washing machines installed before 1998.) A full replacement is way more efficient than simply flushing every fourth or fifth use. Not to mention, a whole lot less gross.

Mind the Leaks

A dripping faucet in the bathroom can be annoying, but also easily forgotten as soon as you walk out of the room. Getting your hands dirty -- or, perhaps, giving your landlord's handyman a call if you don't entirely know what you're doing -- can conserve between 350 and 2,000 gallons a month, depending on how terrible the leak is.

However, as far as toilet leaks go, it may be difficult to tell if one exists. Occasionally, the toilet flapper -- that's the rubber stopper in the tank -- doesn't seal all of the way, but it's such a small leak you can't tell by just looking. So, if you haven't had your flapper replaced recently, give this tip a try:

To test for leaks, put food coloring in the tank. Don't flush. Ten minutes later if you see color in the bowl, you have a leak.

And if you have one, simply replace the flapper and perform the test again to make sure the leak is fixed. Bam! You just saved upwards of 7,000 gallons a month!

Cut Down on Coffee

Here's where you can take things to the next mental level by starting to consider "virtual water." Essentially, the concept is that all water that goes into an item's production counts as the "virtual water" for that item. For example, beef. There's water that needs to be used to grow the wheat, grains and oats in the cow's feed. Water to grow the hay that the cow chews on. Water that the cow itself drinks to survive. When all's said and done, it costs roughly 1,850 gallons of water to raise a pound of beef. (Cutting down on beef consumption then, obviously, is a good move for water conservation.)

But an even larger use of "virtual water"? Coffee. In order to create a pound of coffee beans, it takes a whopping 2,269 gallons of water. That, along with rice, sugar, and cheese, are the biggest disconnects that participants in the afore-linked study had when it came to understanding how much "virtual water" goes into certain foods. Meaning, if you cut down on consuming those four, you're doing more to conserve water than most of the other band-aid solutions usually given.

So, sure. Keep on loading the washing machine as much as possible, and turn off the water when you're not using it. But don't stop there.

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About the Author

Rick Paulas has written plenty of things, some of them serious, many of them not, scattered over the vast expanses of the Internet. He lives in Los Angeles and is a White Sox fan.
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