In recent years, scientists and environmentalists have noted that wasteful human practices and shoddy public infrastructure has led to an unhealthy spike in overall water consumption. To amend this problem, many communities are turning to sustainable construction techniques – and rewarding households that implement them on a regular basis.
According to DrinkTap.org, every American household uses nearly 350 gallons of water every day; this equates to roughly 127,400 gallons every year. While the majority of this wastefulness occurs outdoors, indoor activities such as flushing toilets (18.5 gallons per day), washing clothes (15.0 gallons), showering (11.6 gallons) and using faucets (10.9 gallons) also play a role; an additional 9.5 gallons per day is lost due to leaky devices. On a global level, sharply rising populations have increased the demand for potable water by 64 billion cubic meters per year. Wasteful industrial practices have also contributed to the water shortage; one liter of biofuel, for instance, requires between 1,000 and 4,000 liters of water.
But wasteful habits are only partly to blame for the present crisis; nationwide water infrastructure is another critical factor. As The Baltimore Sun reported in July 2012, public water services ensure public health by not only managing wastewater and keeping pollutants out of freshwater sources, but also keeping contaminants out of drinking water. These services also contribute to economic health; public water investments more than sextuple in the long-term and water treatment is an industry that, when managed efficiently, stands to create thousands of jobs. However, communities across the country are currently contending with growing population and economic woes – as well as aging pipes and underground systems that are in drastic need of replacement. According to the US Conference of Mayors Water Council, public water systems will need an average annual subsidy of $100 billion over the next 20 years in order to sustain.
In 2004, the Great Lakes Commission (GLC) reported wide-scale water conservation measures in several cities. For example, the Uniform Plumbing Code for the city of Albuquerque, N.M., currently requires high-efficiency toilets that use no more than 1.6 gallons per flush in all new construction projects. That city also offers sizable rebates to households that install additional low-flow toilets and showerheads. In Tampa, Fla., where roughly 30 percent of household water is used for landscaping, district officials have begun to promote Xeriscape – an efficient method of landscaping that involves soil analysis, sustainable irrigation and organic agricultural techniques (such as mulching). Throughout the State of California, widespread implementation of efficient toilets, showerheads and faucets – and a comprehensive rewards program for households that acquire these retrofits – has reduced water consumption by as much as 19 percent on an annual basis.
However, the GLC notes that efficient devices will not solve the water crisis alone, as wide-scale adoption of sustainable habits is also required. By flushing toilets only when necessary, taking shorter showers (five minutes at the most), washing only full loads of clothing and dishes, and understanding how much water is needed to sustain outdoor landscaping, every household can play a role in reducing the overall consumption rates.
Article by Noelle Hirsch.