Thursday, March 20, 2014

Fix a Leak Week Once Again

Spring really is just around the corner and so the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has named this week the sixth annual Fix a Leak Week. According to the EPA, one out of every 10 homes has a leak that is wasting almost gallons of water per day that can account for 10,000 gallons of water lost in a home in a year and can account for more than one trillion gallons of water wasted each year across the United States. Reducing wasted water is essential in areas experiencing extended droughts: Texas, California and Nevada and to save money for the rest of us.

Look for dripping faucets, showerheads and fixture connections. Twist and tighten pipe connections, it may be all that is necessary to stop a leak. Though I find that I get mineral build up in my faucets and they need to be disassembled and soaked in hot vinegar and water to dissolve the build up every year or two to prevent drips. Likewise my showerheads need to have the connection between the showerhead and the pipe stem cleaned and tightened regularly. Sometimes fixtures just need to be replaced. When you do, look for WaterSense-labeled models, which are independently certified to use 20% less water and perform as well as standard models.

Check toilets for leaks, the flappers in toilet tanks become worn after several years and leak. Test your toilets by putting a few drops of food coloring in the tank at the back of the toilet and wait 10 minutes before flushing to see if color shows up in the bowl. If there is color, the toilet flapper likely needs to be replaced, which is an easy repair to make. Though it is still a bit early around here you should check your irrigation systems and outdoor spigots too. Though you might want to reconsider your garden and outdoor water use or install rain barrels for watering your garden.

Lawns in general are watered more than other landscaping (though I have never watered mine). The most commonly used varieties of turf grass require more water than many landscape plants, such as ground covers, shrubs, and trees. In addition, homeowners tend to overwater their lawns. As a result, homes with large expanses of lovely green lawns generally use more water (fertilizer and herbicides) than those with a mixture of other plants or the mowed field that surrounds my house.

According to the US Geological Survey total domestic water use in homes totaled 29,400,000,000 gallons per day in 2005, and the “average” US citizen uses 98 gallons a day of water for domestic use, which includes, bathing and bathrooms, laundry, cooking, drinking and outdoor use. Outdoor watering in the drier climates causes domestic per capita water use to be the highest in the driest and hottest climates- the areas of the country facing the biggest water supply challenges Though many water supply companies are facing the reality that the source of their water has limitations and it is expensive to provide and distribute finished drinking water, that realization has not reached most people.

The Earth might seem like it has abundant water, but in fact less than 1 % is fresh water available for human use. The rest is either salt water found in oceans, fresh water frozen in the polar ice caps, or too inaccessible for practical usage. As population grows the demand for freshwater for domestic use and for agriculture to feed us are increasing. However, the supply of water will not increase with demand, the supply of fresh water on earth will always remain constant. And although it's true that the water cycle continuously returns water to Earth, it is not always returned to the same place, or in the same quantity and quality due both to weather and changing climate. While the California and Texas are in an extended and extraordinary drought, I have plenty of water here in Virginia. Though it was not too long ago that well water levels were falling here.

Managing water is a growing concern in the United States. Communities across the country are starting to face that the supply of fresh water is limited and our infrastructure has not been maintained and is failing. Boil water alerts, broken pipes, and supply interruptions are increasing. The United States needs to update its aging water treatment and delivery systems. Many of the states that have projected population growth increases also have higher per capita water use. Strains on water supplies and our aging water treatment systems will result in: Higher water prices to pay for the repair and maintenance of our water infrastructure to ensure continued access to a reliable and safe supply. Higher food costs as farmers’ water allocations are reduced and water costs increase. Increased restrictions on water use to manage shortages. Expensive water treatment projects to transport and store freshwater when local demand overcomes available capacity.

The nation’s capacity for storing surface-water is limited and ground-water is being depleted. At the same time, growing population and regulatory mandates and pressures to keep water in stream flow for fisheries and the environment place new demands on the freshwater supply. We are a nation living on its “credit cards” with our “house” falling apart around us, we just don’t know that we are going broke. The cheapest water is the water not wasted. For those homes on ”City” water and sewer, a quick check of the status of your plumbing fixtures and checking your water usage indicated on your water bill could save thousands of gallons of water a year. Look for changes or increases in water use as well as calculating your absolute use. If your household uses more water than is typical, you might have a hidden leak, or you could be wasteful in your water use. Find out which. Fixing household water leaks can save homeowners about 10% on their water bills.

If like me, you are on well water, you do not have a water bill to track your water use, but you need to be aware of the factors that impact your water supply and regularly practice household water conservation to live within your water resources (it is a budget like any other). Your well is not unlimited and you need to be aware of your water use because wells often have weather and seasonal supply limitations. In addition, the life of a septic system is directly related to the amount of water that flows through your system. Repairing household water leaks could extend the life of your septic system and drainfield. All of us need to become aware of how much water we use and where that water is coming from and eliminate the egregious waste of water leaks.

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