Water and the summer months tend to go hand-in-hand - water skiing or fishing at a lake, taking a dip in a swimming pool and watering home-grown plants with a garden hose are among the season's most popular activities. Recent summers have also been some of the driest on record, prompting grass fires, drastically low lake levels and water utilities having to implement water restrictions on their customers.
The National Weather Service has predicted that states from Georgia to Texas to California and even the Hawaiian islands will see persisting and potentially intensifying drought conditions this summer. In addition to local droughts, water scarcity is a global issue. According to the United Nations' Water for Life campaign, around 1.2 billion people, or almost one-fifth of the world's population, live in parts of the world where access to clean water sources is extremely difficult. Additionally, water around the world is unevenly distributed, taken for granted and wasted, polluted or unsustainably managed.
"Water scarcity and access to clean water are issues in the U.S. and around the world, but the good news is that we can all make a positive difference when it comes to saving water," says Caitlin Feehan, environmental engineer with MWH Global, a water-focused engineering consulting firm. "While climate change, population growth and tendency to waste resources are impacting the world's water, there are small steps each of us can take to conserve water every day."
So how can you positively impact water usage inside and outside your home? Here are five simple tips for the summer months:
•Start with smart landscaping decisions. Adjust your lawn mower to a higher setting - longer grass shades the root systems and holds moisture in soil better than shorter grass. Also, consider composting kitchen scraps, lawn clippings and garden waste to retain more water, reduce erosion and even decrease weed growth.
•Water your yard responsibly. When summer temperatures heat up, water your lawn in the mornings to reduce water loss from evaporation. You can also set your sprinklers to a lower pressure. Why? Higher pressure creates a fine mist that evaporates faster or will blow away, thus wasting water.
•Start your day by showering with a low-flow showerhead. Low-flow showerheads limit the water flow to around three gallons per minute as compared to twice that for a normal showerhead. Pick one up at a local home improvement or hardware store. If you're remodeling a bathroom, you can look at other water- and energy-saving gadgets like tank-less water heaters or low-volume flush toilets.
•Reduce the amount of water that runs down drains. It's estimated that 95 percent of water that flows through a home runs down the drain, but simple steps like turning off the running water while brushing teeth or washing hands until it's time to rinse decreases water waste. Consider collecting some of this water when there may be another use for it, such as watering a plant. Also, rather than running cold water from the tap until it's cold enough to quench your summer thirst, refill and store a pitcher of water in the refrigerator.
•Save water and energy in the laundry room. Reduce water waste by running a washer only when it's full. Using cold water also reduces the amount of energy used and conserves hot water for other household needs that require it. Need a new washer? According to ENERGY STAR, the average American family washes almost 300 loads of laundry each year, but can significantly reduce energy and water usage by purchasing ENERGY STAR-qualified products. For example, a full-sized ENERGY STAR qualified washer uses 14 gallons of water per load, nearly 50 percent less water than a standard machine.
"Summer is the perfect time to evaluate how we use water as part of our daily routine," says Feehan. "Water is our planet's most precious resource that we can all conserve for future generations by taking smart, simple steps today."
For more information on water savings tips this summer and information on incentives or rebates in your area, check with your local water utility.