Save water to save energy


Water systems use a whopping 19% of the electricity in California. Dry landscaping could save you 357 lbs a year, or about the same as 8 CFL’s

Looking for a new idea to fight climate change? Maybe you’re just starting to act on climate change, and have plenty of previous TerraPass conservation tips on your to-do list. Maybe you’ve gone way overboard and are starting to stealthily replace your neighbors light bulbs with CFLs. Well, in either case, a new place to look for savings doesn’t involve a power cord. It’s your water use. Water is energy, and by saving water, we can make a dent in our energy consumption and save a precious natural resource.

The numbers (pdf) for California are eye opening:

  • 19% of electricity in California is used just to get clean water to our homes
  • 30% of all natural gas in California is used for water processing and conveyance
  • For a southern California home, up to 30% of the energy footprint of the average home is accounted for by water transport

The last one is a shocker. Energy use in water systems is measured in kilowatt-hours per million gallons (kwh/MG). Southern California is estimated to use 12,700 kwh/MG — just 9% more efficient than desalinizing sea water!

So what can you do? Here’s are some basic tips and the carbon savings associated for them. I’ve included a spreadsheet so you can adjust your own calculations.

Fix leaks. Leaks are the water-equivalent of leaving the lights on. A leaky toilet wastes 200 gallons a day. Over a year that could add up to 73,000 gallons, enough to fill a couple of swimming pools. Stopping that leak in SoCal saves 557 lbs of CO2, or the equivalent savings of replacing 13 incandescent bulbs with CFLs.

You may be aware that Londoners are struggling with the loss of over 50% of their water. Clearly this is a place to focus.

Be water conscious. Take a low-flow showerhead as an example. It saves 12 gallons per shower, or 33 lbs of CO2 per year, almost as much a CFL. This doesn’t even count the savings from lower hot water heating costs!

Native Landscaping. This is a biggie. The typical sprinkler system uses 5 gallons per minute. Dry landscaping could save you 357 lbs of CO2, or the same impact as 8 CFLs. Plus, there’s a good chance you won’t have to mow!

Next week, we’ll take a look at the some of the systems coming into homes that may provide some cool ideas for saving water…and energy.

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  1. Ann - June 13, 2007

    The link to your water use spreadsheet is not working.

  2. Tom Arnold - June 13, 2007

    Ann — sorry about that. Should be working now.

  3. Brian - June 13, 2007

    Only one problem with dry landscaping in Texas – it’s CRAZY hot down here. We try to use trees, etc., to keep the yard and house cool. This tends to save more energy than what we consume via water consumption. However, I am open to reason – any nifty reference sites on this subject?

  4. Tony Tribby - June 13, 2007

    Yeah, it seemed like the dry landscaping suggestion was just a throwaway here, while it could have been a very good idea if fleshed out a bit better.

  5. Tracy Ball - June 13, 2007

    Tony – Looking forward to your research on the idea.

  6. Natalie - June 13, 2007

    I work in Water Conservation and had to put my two cents in to the conversation.
    In a dry climate, low water landscaping works and saves tons of water. Use native plants or low water plants that work well in your natural climate. This is the best way to save water, since more than 50% of water is used outdoors. If you follow The 7 Steps of Xeriscape, your landscape with save water and still look good. Get more info here: Xeriscape Colorado
    Energy Star appliances like Dishwashers and Front-Loading Washers also save tons of water. Another easy way to save water is to buy a new toilet. Any toilet manufactured before 1994 use too much water per flush (up to 7 gallons). Many water providers give rebates for the purchase of new water saving appliances.

  7. Jonathan - June 13, 2007

    Graywater use is a great way to irrigate landscape plants or lawns (if you must). Resident W. lives in Texas and his ranch regularly uses graywater. I also capture rainwater off the roof in tanks for irrigation. Some folks even use rainwater for domestic use.
    really want to save water? I have been composting my human waste for ten years now. the idea of mixing my waste with purified drinking water, making a toxic brew, which is sent off to be treated, seems insane. Check out the Humanure Handbook, by Joseph Jenkins.

  8. Ilana - June 13, 2007

    What’s interesting about these California statistics is that the “embedded energy” in water differs depending on location. In San Francisco and for others who use SFPUC’s water, practically no energy is used because of the beautiful law of gravity bringing us water from Hetch Hetchy. (Of course this doesn’t mean we should start wasting water 😉
    For southern CA, a tremendous amount of energy is needed to transport water over the Tehachapi mountains, west to the coastal populations.
    Another consideration is the energy used to heat water for showers, dish and clothes washing, energy and water wasted by using sink disposals (ok I am getting off topic, sorry) :)

  9. Tracy - June 13, 2007

    Inspired by a New York Times article, we built an outdoor shower that’s basically an inexpensive, permanent camping shower. The nozzle is definitely low-flow, and we route the run-off to irrigate plants. It’s great in the summer! I was happy to save water and natural gas, but I had wondered about the energy for pumping it. After reading the blog, I’m even happier.

  10. Anonymous - June 13, 2007

    The complexity of this confounds me sometimes. Planting trees helps reduce carbon, but watering them uses electricity. Eating local food uses less energy, but irrigation to produce food in the dry west is highly problematic. I’m trying to understand better the big picture of the situation and what it should mean about the choices I make,
    Like–growing my own vegetables means using more water, but also means that I’m producing the most local food possible. Does this offset the water use?
    I just finished reading “Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water.” At times it seems that the answer is “Get thee, all of you, out of the Desert! You don’t belong!”
    But, that’s not a very viable answer, and I suspect the answer is HOW we use the water we have: Growing things that make sense to grow in the climate we live in, using good conservation practices, including graywater and rainwater collection.
    Thanks for the article.

  11. Chad - June 15, 2007

    This does seem to be a very “California-centric” article. Not all of us live out west, where an absurd influx of people to a place with little water has created, quite predicatably, enormous problems.
    I live in Michigan, and feel no qualms at all about using water. If we ever run out, the world is coming to an end and we are all doomed anyway. Energy is another matter entirely, which I handle through offsets and conservation.

  12. RideTheFuture - June 20, 2007

    Hey Chad,
    LOVE that attitude!
    They should maybe name, say, a lake after you for the incentive of your resourcefulness in saving the planet – oh wait- they already have!!
    Awwww- too bad i’s almost gone by – not enough water 😉

  13. Alex - June 20, 2007

    I am not sure if “Ride the Future” is aware of it, but Lake Chad is in AFRICA. Last time that I checked, Africa is a long way from blogger Chad’s home in Michigan. I do not think that Chad is advocating for us to drain any lakes, but rather pointing out that people should not scratch their heads so much when a lot of energy is consumed to transport enough water to the desert for the roughly 9 million people in L.A. alone… Maybe “Ride” should try walking on water…

  14. S. Wallingford - October 5, 2007

    What you said about consumers using high efficiency water conserving fixtures is correct. many people do not realize the vast impact that personal measures can have on both their water consumption and out of pocket expenses. An excellent source for ultra-low flow toilets, efficient showerheads and faucet aerators is AquaPro Solutions (, a global resource for water conservation and filtration technologies.

  15. Anon - December 12, 2007

    i save water with these simple tools a drain plug and a bucket. reusuing the daily shower water to flush the toliet saving my four family household 22,000 gallons of water per year.

  16. Mike - May 5, 2008

    A lot of people don’t draw that connection between water savings and energy savings. I save money on my water bill by using a front loading washing machine, they use like 1/3 the water of top loaders. I want to install a gray water system in my house to flush toilets and water the plants outside, but its expensive and time consuming. Luckly there are cheap things i can do to save energy(and therefore money) around the home.

  17. Pond Gardiner - June 4, 2008

    Lawn and garden watering make up nearly 40% of total household water use during the summer. The use of a rain barrel allows you to access a free supply of water during the driest months of the year.

  18. Terry Pillisi - August 31, 2008

    I recommend this easy and Inexpensive solution to saving water, time, and energy; install a Hot Water Lobster Instant Hot Water Valve under the sink farthest form your water heater and you will have instant hot water throughout your entire home. It

  19. Julie Reavis - August 29, 2009

    We reuse ALL our shower gray water on landscape plants. We are using a product that continuously extracts the gray water and pumps it through the wall onto landscape plants. It is simple and convenient to operate and saves our family money each month. It also has a pretty cool remote that turns the pump on and off. Our plants are doing great. If you are interested the company’s website is