By Eleanor Revelle (LWVIL and LWVUS Climate Change Task Force Member)
Water is an increasingly scarce resource. Many parts of the United States already face serious water shortages and even drought. Population growth and the changing climate are putting additional stresses on water supplies. Even in areas where water seems to be abundant, careful management of this precious resource is essential if we are to ensure a reliable supply for future generations.
Moreover, using water efficiently also saves energy. For most municipalities, the biggest use of electricity is associated with treating and distributing drinking water and then collecting, treating, and disposing of it after it has been used.
Water conservation is clearly an important component of sustainability. How can we, as individual consumers, help?
Indoor water usage in a typical single family home in the United States is about 70 gallons per person per day. But fixing leaks, installing water-efficient plumbing fixtures, and changing some everyday habits can reduce water usage significantly to around 45 gallons/person/day.
* The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has launched a new program, WaterSense (www.epa.gov/watersense/), to help consumers identify products and programs that meet tough water-efficiency and performance criteria. High-efficiency toilets are the first product to display the new WaterSense label, signaling that the fixture has been independently certified by a third party to confirm that it meets the EPA criteria.
In urbanized areas, roads, rooftops and parking lots cover much of the landscape and prevent rainwater from soaking into the ground and replenishing groundwater. Rainwater runoff flows instead into the storm sewer system, picking up pesticides, fertilizers, oil and other pollutants as it makes its way to local rivers, lakes and bays.
An additional problem confronts older municipalities with combined sewer systems. In these systems, stormwater and sanitary wastes are collected in the same pipe and then treated together before being discharged. During periods of heavy rainfall or snowmelt, the volume of water can exceed the capacity of the system, and the excess wastewater is discharged directly into nearby waterways.
A new approach to stormwater management uses natural systems to absorb and filter rainwater and make use of it where it falls. It treats rainwater as an asset rather than a waste product.
The California Urban Water Conservation Council's H2OUSE tour (www.h2ouse.org/index.cfm) provides detailed advice to help consumers save water at home, both indoors and outside.
The EPA's green infrastructure Web site (cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/home.cfm?program_id=298) discusses a variety of water management techniques, including porous pavement, rain gardens, green roofs, rain barrels and cisterns, and much more.
The Green Infrastructure Project of the Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology promotes green solutions to stormwater management. Its Green Values Stormwater Toolbox (greenvalues.cnt.org/) includes a stormwater calculator to help users assess the impact of various green interventions for their property.
Water saving tips, a home water scorecard and a variety of other resources can be found at Water: Use It Wisely (www.wateruseitwisely.com/index.shtml).
Produced by the LWVUS Climate Change Task Force
© 2008 by the League of Women Voters of the United States