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Summer Water Conservation

By Michele Hatton

The average individual uses about 70 gallons of water indoors per day—the average family, 350 gallons per day. Changing a few habits and investing in some low-tech devices can have dramatic effect on the burden we put on our wastewater treatment facility and septic tanks.

Let's talk toilets. The Florida Public Service Commission claims that 80 percent of water used indoors is in the bathroom—25 percent from the toilet. What can you can do?

  • Purchase a devise that displaces water in the toilet tank—a $2 toilet tank bank or an adjustable flush valve will do the trick.
  • Place water-filled plastic bottles in the tank. Google instructions on how to do this correctly.  
  • Invest in an ultra-low flush toilet (the best solution). Five gallons of water go straight down the drain every time you flush. A low-flush toilet cuts this number in half. 
  • Avoid using the toilet to dispose of tissue and trash. Rule of thumb: flush as little as possible.

Showerheads and Faucets

  • Install low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators (The City of Tallahassee will give you free showerheads if you sign up for a free home energy audit.)

Other Habits That Help

  • Take shorter showers—a four-minute shower uses 20-40 gallons of water
  • Turn off the faucet when soaping up.
  • When washing vegetables, shaving, brushing teeth or hand-rinsing dishes, fill up the sink. Avoid allowing the water to run.  
  • Keep a jug of water in the fridge instead of letting water run from the tap until it cools.
  • Run dishwashers and washing machines only with full loads.
  • Minimize usage of garbage disposal units. These devices overburden our sewage and septic systems and use too much water. Dispose of food waste by starting a compost pile.
  • Test for leaks.

Mr. Bob Seaton, Energy Consultant with the City of Tallahassee, Utilities Services, claims that leaks can be sneaky. “The most common home catastrophic leaks are leaking toilets, but you don’t see any water on the floor and it is silent.” He offers a graphic example. “The amount of water leaking from a toilet, if it is leaking a gallon per minute, can be 43,000 gallons a month—two swimming pools full.” Seaton says leaks in underground pipes can also be undetectable. “It can be Niagara Falls in the ground and nothing shows up on the surface.”

Check toilets, faucets and pipes for hidden leaks by watching your outdoor water meter. If the dial moves after 15 minutes and there is no water running, you have a leak.  

The Environmental Protection Agency website claims that 30 percent of household water use is outside. Rule of thumb: Keep rainwater in your yard and avoid letting it flow to drainage ditches to reduce your overall outdoor usage.

Tips For The Outdoors

  • Mulch around trees and plants. A few inches of leaves, pine needles, or other organic matter placed around plants helps retain moisture in your yard.
  • Plant native, drought-resistant plants and marvel at how they thrive on only intermittent rainwater.
  • Plant a rain-garden. A rain-garden is planted with native plants placed in areas of the yard that receive the most run-off from roofs, sidewalks and driveways, typically low areas. Rain gardens slow the rush and allow this water to naturally infiltrate into the ground. The City of Tallahassee offers home-dwellers small grants to help cover the costs of planting rain gardens. See: Think About Personal Pollution (TAPP).
  • Purchase a rain barrel or other rain catchment device. These low-tech barrels catch rainwater from roofs then store it until it is needed for outdoor watering. 
  • Water your lawn only when it needs it. Seaton says, “Look for grass to begin to curl or wilt, then irrigate deeply but don’t do it often.”
  • When watering, use nozzles with automatic shut-off valves; set up a drip irrigation system and monitor usage; or use a soaker hose. Running a sprinkler for two hours uses up to 500 gallons of water.   
  • Wash cars on the grass and turn off the hose between rinses.
  • Raise lawn-mower blades to their highest level; higher cuts hold soil moisture.

Our Florida Aquifer is abundant but not limitless. Ms. Janet Llewellyn, Policy Administrator for the Office of Water Policy in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection says, “The best way to ensure there is enough water for our human usage and to protect our natural systems is to use water efficiently.” We’ve all forgotten the drought of 2012, but another will come. Llewellyn explains, “Droughts are part of the natural system, but when you add human usage, it really stresses the natural systems. It takes a long time to replenish the aquifer. We can avoid water problems in the future by having good practices now.”

Information gathered from the following websites:

Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), University of Florida
Northwest Florida Water Management District
Eartheasy, Solutions for Sustainable Living
Sustainable Tallahassee
TAPP (Think About Personal Pollution)
Department of Environmental Protection
My Florida Public Service Commission
EUS Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

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