It’s Time to Get Smarter About Saving Water

Sarah Moore Impact Mill Contributor

We take water for granted. For us Americans, there’s no trudging miles to a well you hope has water at the bottom. For developed countries, all you have to do is turn the tap on and receive clean, fresh, life-giving H2O. But water scarcity is a problem that affects every country in the world, and at our current rate of water use and population growth, we simply will not have enough of it to meet every human need…let alone the needs of all the other life forms on the planet.

The average American family uses 320 gallons of water per day, which is pretty staggering when you think about it. For a family of four, that’s 80 gallons allocated to each person. Think 80 milk jugs worth of water every day. It soaks into the yard, pours down the drain at dinner time, and is funneled through the bathroom at alarming rates. The main point is, most of that water trickles and rushes out of our pipes does so without us even noticing.

Counterintuitively, this is actually kind of a good thing. It means that if we do start paying attention, we have plenty of opportunities to use our gallons more efficiently. Here are three easy ideas to help you cut hundreds of gallons a day.

Quit Watering That Lawn


Keeping your lawn green uses a whole lot of water | image: Sam DeLong/Flickr

Our green-lawn-at-all-costs habit is an expensive one. In fact, landscape irrigation accounts for 9 billion gallons of water use daily, or about 30% of our water consumption. A super-easy way to cut this amount is to just stop watering the lawn. In most cases, the grass will green back up once the rain resumes and weather becomes less extreme. That’s almost nothing lost, and so much gained.

Only Flush When You Have To

Did you know that nearly 24% of your household water use goes to the toilet? Yep. Each flush of an older toilet uses between 3.5 and 7 gallons of water. Even a new, environmentally friendly toilet uses more than a gallon (federal standards now specify that new toilets can use no more than 1.6 gallons per flush).

Even if you have a schmancy new water-saving toilet, though, those flushes add up. One of the best things you can do is avoid flushing whenever possible. That means never using your potty as a trash can for Kleenex or cigarette butts. It also means considering the old phrase I learned growing up during California’s more-or-less constant drought:

If it’s yellow, let it mellow.

If it’s brown, flush it down.

 So, you know. There’s that. When it comes to conserving water, it’s pretty good advice.

Take Shorter Showers, Skip Baths


Quick showers are the best way to get yourself clean without too much wasted water | image: Travis Pachosa/Flickr

Okay, this is a great example of not practicing what I preach. I admit, I ADORE baths, and will sit in them for hours. Like, three. But lately, I’m working really hard to get my bath habit down to once every week or two, because it’s just so bad for the world.

The average bath uses between 35 and 50 gallons, whereas a shower with a traditional showerhead uses about 5 gallons a minute. If you install a low-flow showerhead, on the other hand, it’s only about 2.5 gallons per minute, so that’s a great step. Another great step? Just shorten those showers. One tip I heard recently was to put on a favorite song and get out when it’s over.

…and sorry, Stairway to Heaven does not count, friends.

These aren’t the only water saving ideas, of course. You can also make sure to run full dishwasher and laundry loads, plant native species that know how to weather summer droughts, and replace leaky faucets or washers in your home. The tips above are a great starting point though, and with a little dedication, can help you save hundreds of gallons of water use per day, and thousands per week. Totally worth it.

Sarah Moore is an Impact Mill contributor and freelance writer who focuses on sustainability, local food, and the weirder side of science. In her spare time she enjoys writing fiction, running, and cooking. Sarah lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, two children, two dogs, and an unshakable colony of June bugs.