The U.S. Geological Survey states that about 70% of the Earth’s surface is water-covered, and this probably seems like a lot. For several reasons, however, the Earth’s water supply is not endless – in fact, it’s quite the opposite.
The Earth’s population is growing by about 80 million people per year, and as more people populate the Earth, more water is needed. Worldwide freshwater consumption has increased threefold in the past 50 years.
According to the EPA, a family of four in the U.S. uses an average of 400 gallons of water per day, but even this is not the full picture of water use. National Geographic estimates the average American lifestyle is fueled by around 2000 gallons of water daily, with the vast majority of water use going toward thermoelectric power and irrigation. A significant amount of water is also used for agriculture and industry. You can use National Geographic’s water footprint calculator tool to gauge your own water usage.
The UN observes World Water Day each year, and this year it falls on March 22. The theme of World Water Day 2013 is international water cooperation. Although that’s a big-picture international goal, there’s a lot we can do as individuals and families to reduce water consumption.
Install Low-Flush Toilets
According to the EPA, toilets account for 40% of residential water use, which amounts to 4.8 billion gallons of flushed water daily. That’s enough to fill 217,391 swimming pools (32ft by 16ft, with an average depth of 5.75 feet). Low-flush toilets use 1.6 gallons of water or less, a significant amount lower than the 3.5 to 5 gallons used by conventional toilets. Some cities, like Denver, offer cash rebates to residents who replace conventional toilets with low-flush models, so make sure to contact your local government and save your receipt.
Keep Drinking Water in the Fridge
A lot of people run the faucet for a while until water is cold enough to drink. Instead of running the faucet for 30 seconds, a minute, or however long that takes, grab a reusable water bottle and put your drinking water in the refrigerator or freezer to cool it. Check out TIME’s list of eco-friendly reusable water bottles if you don’t already own one.
Wash your car at a place that recycles water
Washing your car at home with a hose may save money, but it doesn’t save water. Washing the car in your driveway can harm the environment as water runoff flows directly into sewers and storm drains, causing environmental havoc when this water enters rivers, streams and creeks. Avoid this by finding a carwash in your area that recycles water and prevents harmful runoff.
Wash clothes with cold water, and only when necessary
Waiting twice as long as usual to wash a sweatshirt or pair of jeans might sound unsanitary, but it really isn’t – and it can go a long way toward saving precious water. Levi’s has been urging customers to wash jeans less often and only do so with cold water. Switching from hot to cold water also reduces your carbon footprint because heating water is an energy intensive process.
Washing clothes less often goes hand-in-hand with recycling unwanted clothing. Producing a single t-shirt requires around 700 gallons of water. Think about that next time you look through your closet at old shirts and things you no longer want. If you throw away an old shirt and buy a new one, you are burdening the environment and putting further strain on the world’s water resources. Instead of trashing that old shirt, recycle it – the shirt will get a second life and you’ll reduce the need to produce a new one and waste water.