Saving Water

Summer 2002

Saving Water in the Home
Saving Water in the Garden and Landscape

Saving Water in the Home

Most people use 50 to 70 gallons of water indoors each day, 75% of it in the bathroom, according to Michigan State University. Compare this with the 5 gallons per person per day used in Pennsylvania at the turn of the century (the 19th century, that is)! (The [Wilkes-Barre, Pa.] Times Leader, March 5, 2002) Here are some ways to reduce current uses.

• Wash only full loads of laundry in your washing machine or full loads of dishes in your dishwasher.

• Run one load of laundry per day, rather than running several loads on the weekend (to enable your well to “recharge”).

• Do laundry and run the dishwasher at “off peak use times” and not immediately before or after you take a shower.

• Check to see whether your dishwasher can clean dishes without pre-rinsing them.

• Collect household water that is wasted while waiting for the hot water to reach your faucet or shower head. Use this to water houseplants and outdoor plants. Do the same with water that is used to boil eggs or steam vegetables.

• Shorten your shower by one minute, or take 5- minute-or-less showers. Install a water saving shower head that uses two and a half gallons per minute. (Ed. note: Showering every day is common in the United States but not necessarily elsewhere. As more of us spend more days at computers, rarely breaking a sweat, we might consider showering every other day or even – gasp! – less! Likewise, you don’t have to flush the toilet every time you urinate. In fact, if you keep a bucket in a discrete place, you can use it to collect urine, dilute one part urine with nine parts water, and use this as a fertilizer on outdoor plants; and/or invest in a composting toilet.)

• Refrigerate a bottle of drinking water instead of letting a faucet flow until the water is cold enough to drink.

• Use a dishpan or plug the sink for washing and rinsing dishes. Install a low-flow aerator on all faucets.

Sources: Waldo County Extension Perspectives, February 2002; “How to conserve water in your home and yard,” Michigan State University, at [].


Saving Water in the Garden and Landscape

About 40 percent of the water that people use in the summer is used outdoors often when water shortages are worst and when plants need water most. You can help meet some of these outdoor water needs and conserve water in the following ways:

• Add organic matter to the soil, through compost, cover crops, etc., so that water infiltrates quicker and deeper and so that more water can be held in the soil through the sponge-like quality of organic matter. In one study, water infiltrated 1.2 inches of soil in one hour when no manure was added to the soil; 1.9 inches when 8 tons of manure were added per acre; and 2.7 inches when 16 tons of manure were added per acre. Each 1 percent increase in organic matter can increase the soil water storage capacity by 16,000 gallons per acre-foot.

• Use mulch to minimize evaporation of water from the soil.

• Encourage earthworms. One study showed that fields with abundant earthworm tunnels could absorb water four to ten times faster than those without.

• Use irrigation equipment, such as drip irrigation, soaker hoses and hand watering, that puts water where the plants need it and not where weeds can take advantage of it. Gardener’s Supply Company (128 Intervale Road, Burlington VT 05401; sells “aqua cones” that attach to empty soda bottles and deliver water to the roots of individual plants.

• Catch rainwater from the roof in rain barrels (see Gardener’s Supply Co., for example; other companies that sell rain barrels are listed at About 160 gallons of rain water per hour can come off of a roof during a moderate rainfall. In arid areas, roofs are sometimes extended to intercept and collect more rain, and drain spouts are sometimes placed every 20 feet instead of the more usual 40 feet.

• Recycle graywater. About 60 to 65 percent of water used indoors can be recycled as graywater within the house (for flushing toilets, for example), or outdoors, for watering ornamental plants, or, if it is clean enough, watering the vegetable garden and compost pile. Detergents may contain sodium and chloride, which may harm some species, so be careful.

• Water saving methods save energy as well, because you won’t run the water pump so often if you’re using “waste” water. And they can save money. If you’re on town water, your bills should go down. If you have a private well and septic system, the water pump and septic system should last longer when they are used less.

• Keep as much ground covered with vegetation as possible. Sod provides one of the best ways for water to infiltrate soils, and even if it turns a little brown in the summer, it will green up again in the fall. Many “weeds” have long taproots that maintain connections with water tables as they drop. Trees and shrubs can shade and cool the ground and reduce evaporation (and cool the immediate area as they transpire).

• Promote populations of mycorrhizal fungi, which help plants take up water (and nutrients) from a greater volume of soil.

• Practice no-till or low-till farming and gardening to maintain soil aggregates and to compact the soil as little as possible.

• For more information, see:

English, Jean, “Experts Talk Soil at MOFGA Meetings,” The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, June-Aug. 2000, p. 28-32, at

English, Jean, “Steve Gilman’s Biostrip Cropping: Forage Crops for Soil Livestock,” The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, March-May 2002, p. 24-26, at

Gelt, Joe, “Home Use of Graywater, Rainwater Conserve Water and May Save Money,” at

Ingham, Elaine, Soil Foodweb, Inc., 1128 NE 2nd St., Suite 120, Corvallis OR 97330;

Magdoff, Fred, and Harold van En, Building Soils for Better Crops, Sustainable Agriculture Publications, Box 90, Hills Bldg., Univ. of Vt., Burlington VT 05405

Sullivan, Preston, “Drought Resistant Soils,” and “Sustainable Soil Management,” from Alternative Technology Transfer for Rural America (ATTRA), Univ. of Arkansas, PO Box 3657, Fayetteville AR 72702;; 800-346-9140.


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