Turn the faucet off, save water and save energy


There’s a new water supply issue stirring in California. There may have to be a serious cut in supplies next year after a ruling in August designed to protect an endangered fish. Until an official resolution can be reached, the water agencies are doing the only thing they can: asking people to cut back in their water use.

Last week members of the TerraPass team were trying to impress each other with conservation stats. We had some good ones, but the one that really surprised everybody was the suggestion that turning off the water while brushing your teeth can save nine gallons of water.

Obviously I stole most of my stats from the internet. In particular I have to thank Mrs. Kuntz’s Third Grade Class of Crockett Elementary in Abilene, TX. It was their diligent research, published in the Abilene Reporter-News that I used as my source for the nine-gallon figure.

Perhaps I was in a bit of a daze, or just past a deadline, but I never stopped to think about that number until I mentioned it in our meeting. It’s absurdly high (56 pints in a currency that some of us understand a little better).

Now, with all due respect to the Crockett third graders, their number is probably a little too high. The average bathroom faucet gives water at around two gallons per minute and social scientists reliably measure the average tooth-brushing at 90 seconds. Even assuming a regular twice-a-day brushing, the maximum water consumption is still six gallons. You’d fill the bath after a week!

We often associate saving energy with oil, gas and electricity. But simple water conservation is a huge energy saver too. And now seems as a good a time as any to remind people of this. In June Tom observed on this blog that in Southern California 30% of the energy footprint of the average home is accounted for in its water transport.

Saving water isn’t difficult. First, you can just use less water. You’ve heard all this before (and if you haven’t, then the third grade at Crockett is putting you to shame), but here are a couple of the highlights…

  • Don’t leave the tap on while you brush your teeth.
  • Shower rather than bathe (and not for too long).
  • If you prefer to drink cold water, then keep some water in the fridge rather than waiting for the tap to run cold.

You can also reduce the flow of water. An aerator screws directly onto your faucet, increases the spray velocity while reducing splash and saving water. They come in different sizes for bath, bathroom sink and kitchen faucets.

And finally there are leaks. It’s worth testing for these, too. A leak in your toilet could be responsible for as much as 557lbs of CO2 each year.

If you’re inspired to do a little investigation into all this, then check out the Home Institute’s guide to water conservation. Or for just $14.95 you can measure your flows, check for leaks and get a couple of aerators with the Indoor Water Conservation Kit available from Greenfeet.com. Then you can really know exactly how much water you’re saving while you’re brushing your teeth.

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  1. Andrew E - October 12, 2007

    If you have a lawn, do not use grass. Instead plant native species that do not require as much water.

  2. richard schumacher - October 17, 2007

    Eventually people will say “to heck with that nonsense”: they’ll build nuclear powered desalination plants and use all the water they feel like. Fresh water will be pumped into the Central Valley for irrigation to reverse the effects of decades of salt build-up in the soil. Starting with the Hetch Hetchy, all dams will be torn down to let California’s rivers run free for native fish.

  3. Monty - October 17, 2007

    The problem is easy to fix since it is the same issue with petroleum. Just raise the price. I know that is blasphemous in this country, but if you double the price of water you will not need to ask people to use less – they will. Of course, then the concern will be that it is not ‘progressive’, and those that can not afford it would be in trouble. This, too, is easy to fix by simply having those that can not afford the new rates fill out a form to have it reduced.
    It all seems so simple when you do not concern yourself over the politics of the situation. But, of course, the politics are why this is the last option on the table.

  4. arrakis - October 17, 2007

    Good observation. But why not liters instead of, of at least in addition to, ye-olde gallons and pints? Drinking water (for those who insist on buying the stuff) in bottles is now measured in liters.

  5. Adam Stein - October 17, 2007

    Perhaps Pete will chime in here, but methinks it was a joke about beer…

  6. rickbb - October 17, 2007

    Your local water department — at least here in California — may also have a conservation checkup program where, upon request, they will send a technician out to review your water usage (through toilets, faucets, shower heads, irrigation system, etc.) and make suggestions that will decrease your usage relatively painlessly.

  7. Pete - October 17, 2007

    Yes, it was a joke. But if you want it in liters, I’m a European and therefore bilingual here… there are 3.79 liters in a US Gallon, so 9 gallons = 34.07 liters. Which feels like a lot of beer. Even to a Brit.

  8. Trace - October 17, 2007

    How about this old standby:
    If it’s yellow then it’s mellow,
    if it’s brown, flush it down!

  9. Les Brinsfield - October 18, 2007

    9 gallons = 36 quarts = how many pints?

  10. killian - October 30, 2007

    i hope the proposition for nuclear powered desalination plants is also a joke. as if the trade of maintaining profligate resource consumption for the high costs and risks of nuclear power was a reasonable option. human imperfection has already proved too many times that we cannot assure to the prevention of nuclear disasters. and what state is going to accept the responsibilities and risks of disposing and protecting nuclear waste, in a world in which it is a likely terrorist target? besides a basic cost-benefit analysis of the security costs involved in the meticulous vigilance of radioactive materials over tens of thousands of years, is it morally acceptable for us to produce such waste that may very well outlive our species?

  11. Anonymous - September 5, 2008

    Is the water in California safe to drink? I recently moved here.

  12. BeWaterWise Rep - June 10, 2009

    Nice Post! Today when fresh water levels in Southern California have dropped alarmingly, the need to spread awareness on water conservation has become very important. Posts like these go a long way in educating people about the importance of water conservation. In fact BeWaterWise.com also has a very good section on how to save water at home – http://tr.im/o1MM . These tips are simple and inexpensive; and also help save gallons of water every day. Please check them out.