Best ways to save water during a long, dry summer

Shannon Lee | Improvement Center Columnist | July 13, 2015

Want to learn some hard lessons about water conservation? Face down one of the worst droughts your state has ever seen. That's what is happening with California, where the past three years have been the driest on record, and 2015 is on track to be even worse. In fact, it has gotten so bad that Governor Jerry Brown has imposed strict water restrictions on cities and towns, and there is even talk of reducing the water that goes to California farms -- a move that could have a strong ripple effect across the entire nation.

It sounds dire, and it is. But the good news is that we tend to learn from our mistakes, and the drought in California holds valuable lessons for every state in the nation. Preparing for a drought starts right now, no matter where you are -- whether it's the rain-soaked East or the drier-than-ever West.

Reducing water consumption can be done, even during the hottest of those hot days. Here are a few ways that we can jump into water conservation, even in the midst of a severe drought.

  1. Start right now. Water conservation can no longer wait until tomorrow. It is a true crisis in California, and it threatens to become one in other states, like Nevada, Texas, and Oklahoma. Most of the country seems fine right now, but who knows what the water situation will look like five years from now? Water conservation efforts, especially during the hot and dry summer, need to take place immediately.
  2. Keep up with home maintenance. Even a slow leak from a faucet can add up to 20 gallons or more per day. That's a huge amount of water wasted. Pay attention to every faucet, showerhead, and toilet in your home, and be vigilant for water leaks. If you notice one, repair it immediately.
  3. Speaking of showers and faucets… Now is the time to make the changes that you have been putting off. A low-flow showerhead can cut water usage to 1.5 gallons per minute, which is more than enough for a good shower. Green faucets can help reduce the water use even more, and low-flow toilets make a much bigger dent.
  4. Avoid using water. When you get a shower, make it fast. Don't wash clothes until you have a full load -- as full as you can get it. Even then, use the shortest wash and rinse. Don't wash your car, hose down your deck, or even water your plants -- unless you have a rain barrel.
  5. Stop washing dishes. Instead, invest in paper plates and cups. Make sure they are the type you can compost, either in your own backyard or with your recycling center. Washing only utensils and the occasional pot or pan is a water-saving alternative to the dishwasher. If this isn't an option, you'll actually save water using an energy-efficient dishwasher instead of washing by hand.
  6. Invest in rain barrels. In most areas of the country, rain barrels are perfectly legal and encouraged. Now is the time to get one or two. Use the water you collect in the rain barrels to water your plants and do other yard work. But keep in mind that even that water should be conserved, so use it wisely.
  7. Water only at night. When you do water your plants (with water only from the rain barrels, of course), do it at night. This allows the ground to soak up more water before the harsh sun appears and evaporates all that moisture back into the atmosphere.
  8. Go with new landscape design. Introducing native plants and grasses into your landscape can help reduce your water usage; native species are already acclimated to your particular climate. You can also reduce the area of lawn by adding more mulched areas, extending decks and porches, or adding a pebbled garden area.
  9. Cover up your pool. The most responsible option for pool owners is to forgo using the pool this summer. But if you absolutely must have your daily dip, invest in a sturdy pool cover. Up to 20,000 gallons of water can be lost over the summer to evaporation from your backyard pool. (No, that's not a typo!) A pool cover can save enormous amounts of precious water.

A serious drought eventually affects everyone across the nation. Now is the time to make conserving water a habit, so begin by reducing your usage as much as possible this summer. Every single drop matters -- and if you don't believe that, just ask a few owners of parched land in Southern California.

Photo credit to Nam Phan

About the Author

Shannon Lee is a freelance writer and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.