Thursday, March 21, 2013

Fix a Leak to Conserve Water

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has named this week the Annual Fix a Leak Week. 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. According to the EPA, one out of every 10 homes has a leak that is wasting at least 90 gallons of water per day.

The EPA’s WaterSense program is designed to encourage Americans to check and replace leaky plumbing fixtures and be thoughtful in their water use. This comes at a time when many urban water systems in the United States are nearing or at the limits of their water supply. Even in generally water rich areas there are limits to the availability of water and United States has begun to address the availability of water by recycling wastewater. In the United States municipal wastewater represents a significant potential source of reclaimed water, an estimated 32 billion gallons of water a day is treated in wastewater treatment plants throughout the country. Before recycling wastewater, we should eliminate water waste in our communities.

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. 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. 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.

·        Check toilets for silent leaks by putting a few drops of food coloring in the tank at the back and, if after 10 minutes, color shows up in the bowl before flushing, it may be time to replace the flapper.
·        Check outdoor hoses for damage from winter frost and tighten connections at the water source.
·        For in-ground sprinkler systems, a professional (certified through a WaterSense-labeled program) can inspect sprinkler heads and pipes for signs of leakage and help homeowners maintain an efficient system and healthy lawn. (Though you might want to reconsider a lawn that needs regular watering.)
·        Check additional plumbing and outdoor fixtures for leaks. They may just need a quick twist, cleaning or pipe tape. Check all faucets for slow drips.

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 increase in the driest and hottest climates. In Nevada, average domestic water use was reported to be 190 gallons/day per person, while in Maine they used on average 54 gallons/ per day. In Maryland average domestic water use was reported to be 109 gallons/day per person while here in Virginia the average water usage was 75 gallons/day per person. Pennsylvania to the north uses an average of 57 gallons/day per person. The US Geological Survey who collected and compiled all this data and the estimates imbedded in them offers no explanation for the differences in domestic water use.  While I believe there are differences in water usage, I do not know the causes of the variation beyond the weather, but the age of the water fixtures can contribute to the differences.

There are tremendous differences in water consumption of appliances and fixtures based on their age and design. For example we all know about low-flush toilets which use 1.6 gallons per flush versus 5 gallons per flush for the older toilets. According to the 2001 Handbook of Water Use and Conservation by A. Vickers and published by WaterPlow Press in Amherst, MA the average person flushes the toilet 5.1 times a day. Before the advent of low flush toilets, flushing was the largest use of water for each person. If you have new toilets and are home all day, your daily water use for flushing would be 8.2 gallons versus 25.5 gallons for an older toilet.

The typical American uses the most water for flushing, showering, washing hands and brushing teeth, and laundry. Buying water efficient appliances and fixtures, maintaining the fixtures and repairing any leaks can significantly reduce our water use. For bathing and brushing teeth low flow faucets and showerheads and behavior modification (not running the water while you brush your teeth or shorter showers can save about a third of the water typically used for personal hygiene, reducing the typical 28 gallons a day to 19 gallons a day. Laundry is the second largest use of water after toilets. The typical American does 0.37 loads of laundry per person per day. A top loading washing machine uses 43-51 gallons per load while a full size front load machine uses 27 gallons per load and some machines have low volume cycles for small loads that use less. Replacing a top load washing machine with a front load machine saves 6-9 gallons of water per person per day or 24 gallons per load of laundry. A standard dishwasher uses 7-14 gallons per load while a water efficient dishwasher uses 4.5 gallons per load. Eliminating the watering of our ornamental gardens would significantly reduce water use especially in the most arid parts of the country where there is the most pressure on water supply. By replacing appliances and fixtures with water efficient fixtures and eliminating outdoor use of water the typical American could reduce their water use to about 38 gallons per person per day without significantly changing their lives. That is a significant water savings that will become more important as water resources in the United States become stretched to their limits.

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