Water Conservation and Quality Assurance at Home

by Shannyn Snyder

Although public water in the U.S. is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency to meet certain standards, it is important that consumers do their part to ensure the safety of water at home. These measures differ depending upon where you live and what type of water you use (municipal or well), but water conservation and safe water disposal should be practiced even in North America where water is considered to be clean and plentiful.

Water scarcity is not just a problem in developing countries, and U.S. waterways have undergone a sizable depletion due to both privatization and climate change. Water scarcity is not just measured by a lack of water but also by the availability of potable water. The U.S. and Canada also annually continue to use larger quantities of water compared to other countries, a trend exacerbated by our growing consumption of commodities such as automatic sprinkler systems, jumbo-size washing machines, automatic garbage disposals and dishwashers.

According to Dr. James M. Symons in Plain Talk About Drinking Water, the residential use of drinking water by one person in one year greatly differs not only from developing countries but also to other westernized countries as well, as indicated in gallons below:

  • United States 52,500
  • Canada 40,300
  • Poland 15,680
  • Belgium 13,260

Consumers on municipal water systems are cautioned about flushing liquids down the drain such as aluminum or ammonia-based cleaners, hair products, glues, paints and paint thinners and alcohol-based lotions. Residents on septic systems need to exercise even greater caution, as there is an increased risk of septic leaching into ground water. Homeowners on well water must also care for the natural biodegradable component of their system. Instead of flushing or using the garbage disposal, septic owners should instead "throw out" products such as fats, grease, cooking oil, coffee grounds, meat bones, household cleaners, gas, transmission or brake fluids, anti-freeze, pesticides, cigarettes, diapers or feminine hygiene products. The substances or items listed can either affect the natural chemicals in the system or they are non-biodegradable.

Water conservation is typically not practiced in U.S. homes, and water shortages or water emergencies are often met with open disdain by suburbanites who balk at the idea that washing a car will cause a remarkable drop in overall water availability. However, the statistics of U.S. and Canadian water usage may be surprising. The average toilet requires 4 to 6 gallons of water in the U.S. (or the same imperial gallons in Canada), and toilet flushing accounts for approximately 40% of U.S. household water usage daily, followed by baths or showers (32%) and laundry (14%).

Simple conservation methods include using a set-in water-filled glass jar or jug to lessen the amount of water needed to fill a toilet tank (never use brick as it can crumble and damage the toilet) or install low-flow showerheads. Running washing machines and dishwashers only when they are full, using aerators on kitchen and bathroom faucets and avoiding using the toilet as a trashcan for tissues, cigarettes or gum) can all greatly reduce household water use.

While it is easy to take for granted the need for water conservation in home environments where water is so plentiful, it is important to remember that much of the developing world lives on a ration of 2 to 6 gallons of water per day, barely enough to flush one toilet in one U.S. household toilet one time.

For more water saving tips for homeowners, see: http://www.water.ca.gov/drought/docs/WaterSavingTips.pdf

Source: Symons, James M. (200). Plain Talk About Drinking Water. American Water Works Association.