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When the Water Dries Up

What People Can Do to Save Water—and the Environment

When people turn on their faucets in bathrooms, kitchens, or showers, they expect water to flow out. And if they live in a modern, developed country, they expect that water flow to be drinkable, too.

But how often do people really consider how precious water is or the distance it may have traveled to reach them?

In many countries around the world, plumbing and the availability of water is a given, nothing to lose sleep over. The idea of walking to a well over a mile away to bring back water in a jug or transporting it back home in plastic containers on a bike or truck is unimaginable, but in some places in the world this journey is still a reality. Even in some Native American homes in the United States, flowing water is not always available.

Where one lives will impact one’s sensibility about water’s availability or its scarcity. For example, people living on the west side of the main island of Hawaii can expect a yearly rainfall of less than nineteen inches. However, if they move 77 miles to Hilo, on the east side of the island, they will see more than 144 inches per year. People who live with abundant rain will develop different attitudes and habits of water usage compared with those in drier climes.

Worsening Droughts

Comparison of water levels of the Overton Arm that flows into Lake Mead, Nevada/Arizona.   ©NASA Earth Observatory images by Lauren Dauphin, using Landsat data, U.S. Geological Survey
Comparison of water levels of the Overton Arm that flows into Lake Mead, Nevada/Arizona. ©NASA Earth Observatory images by Lauren Dauphin, using Landsat data, U.S. Geological Survey

Regardless of where people live, the unfortunate reality is that over the past thirty years, water resources in many populated areas of the world are becoming seriously stressed. As early as 2025, half of the world's population could be living in areas facing water scarcity. By 2030, some 700 million people could be displaced by intense water scarcity.

As populations grow in many regions and cities, the demand for water increases even as its availability becomes more limited. Rising global temperatures, less rainfall in crucial areas, and myriad factors have contributed to widespread droughts, particularly in regions of the American Southwest. Stark images of Lake Mead published by NASA in July 2022 made headlines around the world, as aerial pictures revealed a substantial drop in the lake that is connected to the Colorado River, on the border between Nevada and Arizona. The Hoover Dam is connected to Lake Mead and provides water and electricity to over forty million people in nearby cities and states.

South of the border of Arizona is Sonora, Mexico, which at one time was supplied with abundant water from the Colorado River. People who live in certain regions of that area may find that in hot summer months, water may be turned off for a couple hours a day. Visitors traveling throughout Mexico will see large water tanks, “tinacos,” on the rooftops of most residences; they contain water that is often not drinkable.

Efforts are being made to remedy this problem, but the current water usage in Mexico is not sustainable.

In Mexico, rooftop tanks often contain water that is not drinkable.   ©iStock
In Mexico, rooftop tanks often contain water that is not drinkable. ©iStock

With the many-faceted issue of climate change continually dominating the news, the average person can easily feel overwhelmed to effect meaningful corrective change. However, regarding water usage, there are many measures one can take to promote water conservation and reduce water consumption without resorting to extreme water rationing. With expanded awareness about extravagant water usage, communities can promote daily water savings tips—leading to lower water bills and even feelings of satisfaction that anyone can make a significant difference!

What People Can Do

There are many effective ways to conserve water; the list below highlights just a few, most of which do not involve much expense. Even simple changes make for a good start.

Saving Water in the Bathroom

  • When brushing one’s teeth, wet the brush and use a cup of water to rinse. There’s no need to keep the tap flowing while shining those pearly whites.

Brushing teeth   ©halfbottle/iStock
Brushing teeth. ©halfbottle/iStock
  • Sometimes a long hot (or cold!) shower is just what a body needs, but people can save many gallons of water when showering. This means wetting the body/head under the shower, turning off the water while soaping up and shampooing, and rinsing off. Normally, showering for just four minutes sends twenty to forty gallons down the drain!

  • For those who shave at the sink, try shaving by filling the sink with warm water. The razor can be rinsed without leaving the tap running.

  • Replace that old toilet with a new ultra-low volume (ULV) 1.6-gallon flush model. Potentially, this upgrade will save as much as 70% in water, and cut indoor water use by about 30%. Alternatively, consider purchasing a dual flush toilet or buy a dual flush converter. A family may save up to 15,000 gallons of water each year. If needed, more water is used, but normally households will use 70% less water.

  • Replace shower head and bathroom faucets with aerators that will reduce water flow.

Saving Water in the Kitchen

  • Use the dishwasher. People may think they use Iess water by handwashing dishes, but unless there are dual sinks—one for washing, one for rinsing—handwashing dishes actually uses more than a dishwasher. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that an efficient dishwasher uses half as much water, which may save as much as 5,000 gallons each year. Also, pre-rinsing dirty dishes is unnecessary if a dishwasher is used.

Using the dishwasher saves water. ©Daisy-Daisy/iStock
  • In hot summer months, don’t run the tap for cooler water; keep a pitcher of water in your refrigerator—cool water will always be ready when needed.

Saving Water for the Outdoors

  • Water plants late in the evening whenever possible; this will cut back on the amount of moisture that evaporates.

Watering plants in the evening cuts down water evaporation. ©romrodinka/iStock
  • Consider planting trees that provide shade either to other plants or the home. The plants near the tree will use less water, and shade provided by trees may keep your house cooler.

  • Install drip irrigation. There are many relatively simple DIY kits that can be picked up at hardware or big box stores that have gardening departments. Using rain barrels to collect water runoff from the roof can also save water.

  • Instead of hosing down sidewalks or outdoor patios, sweep them off. Dipping the bristle end of the broom into a bucket of water will help get up any dirty deposits.

  • Check to see that you have no leaks in the outdoor garden faucets and hoses.

Although changing one’s water usage habits may be a little challenging at first, the water bills can go down by employing some of these ideas, while helping to preserve the water supply.

There is no denying that there is a decreasing water supply in many places. Regardless of the security of the water supply in one’s local community, imagine if millions of people worldwide utilized some of these water saving tips. The result is a win-win for families, communities, and beyond. Moreover, efforts towards expanding greater awareness and consciousness of these solutions can give people a chance to make a difference.


*Kate Pugnoli is an Arizona based freelance journalist and former educator who works with nonprofit organizations. Her area of interest is in addressing environmental issues impacting marine biodiversity and conservation.


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