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Why Waste Water
"If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down." This water-conservation slogan was big when I was a kid in California in the 1970s. Such a toilet-flushing strategy is effective, but it may be a bit too extreme for you. Fortunately, there are less drastic options for conserving water, and most don't require a major effort.
by Dan Cary

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"If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down."

This water-conservation slogan was big when I was a kid in California in the 1970s. Such a toilet-flushing strategy is effective, but it may be a bit too extreme for you. Fortunately, there are less drastic options for conserving water, and most don't require a major effort. For example, turning off the faucet while brushing teeth saves water.

Climactic changes and population increases are leading to shortages in areas that previously have not experienced deficits. And even if your community's water supply is never pushed to a critical shortage, conserving water is a great way to help keep your local environment and wildlife healthy -- and it saves money. Below are ways you can start conserving more water.

o Fix all leaking toilet valves, pipes and faucets. An estimated 10 percent of annual US household water consumption is lost through leaks.

o Reduce water use by up to 60 percent by installing a high performance shower head and up to 40 percent by installing a flow reducer to your faucet's aerator.

o If you have a toilet that flushes 3 to 5 gal., replace it with a low-flow model. New toilets have been required to meet the 1.6 gal. per flush standard for more than 10 years. Early low-flows were notorious for weak flushes, but newer models are much improved; they have larger trapway designs and flush valves. Look for toilets with at least a 3-in.-dia. flush valve. To conserve even more, use dual-flush toilets like the Caroma (see photo). It features a dual-flush mechanism that allows you to use either .8 or 1.6 gal. per flush. It also has a huge 4-in.-dia. trapway for fast and powerful flushes.

o How about not flushing at all? I'm not suggesting building an outhouse, but composting toilets handle waste without sending it into a city sewage or septic system. These devices break down waste into compost. Most feature continuous fans to vent odors and require additives to aid composting and provide bulk. Composting toilets are growing in popularity among residential users, but are especially suited for rural homes where traditional sewage or septic installations are challenging (check local codes for restrictions).

o Insulate pipes, which reduces cooling while hot water is in the pipes. Fiberglass wraps, open-cell tubes and rigid foam are easy to install.

o Install an on-demand or tankless water heater. Tankless water heaters are small enough to be installed in remote locations, such as in an upstairs laundry room. Water is quickly heated as it runs through a series of heated pipes. These are energy-efficient devices that only operate when you need hot water.
Yards often require a lot of water to maintain. The following tips will reduce water used and lost into city sewer systems (check your city codes for restrictions):

o Limit evaporation loss by not watering in the hottest times of the day. Early morning is best.

o Water lawns deeply. Apply approximately 1-in. per watering, doing two 1/2-in. waterings with a 1.2-hour break between. Frequency depends on the grass species and soil conditions, but, in general, cool-season grasses need watering once every 5 to 10 days. Warm-season grasses need it once every 10 to 20 days.

o Use drip-irrigation systems and soaker hoses to water landscape and container plants.

o Landscape with plants native to your region, and consider plants not requiring much water (a practice called xeriscaping).

o Use rain barrels to capture rain run-off from your roof. Save and use it to water landscaping during dry periods.

o Create a rain garden to collect rain runoff. This gives water a chance to soak into the ground before it reaches the city's storm drains. A rain garden is simply a 12- to 18-in.-deep basin or excavated garden bed located in the path of runoff and planted with native perennials.

There is one instance when you might consider conserving less water - when you drink it. Drinking plenty of water is good for you, but it must be safe and taste good. If you wonder about your water or go through cases of bottled water, consider an in-home filtration system. Find out about your drinking water's source, treatment methods and quality by requesting a report from your local water department (the Environmental Protection Agency requires each water department to complete an annual report). Once you know your water's specific contents, select the best filter system for your needs. Be aware that some filtration systems are less efficient, producing much waste water as the water passes through. -- Dan Cary


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