Sunday, April 22nd is Earth Day 2012. The theme of this year’s Earth Day is Mobilize The Earth. It calls for a renewed commitment to stewardship of the planet and its resources, and encouraging all persons, organizations, and governments to do their part to ensure a greener, more sustainable future for all of us. (When you’ve finished reading this article, check out the Earth Day website, and see how you can get further involved.)

One year ago, jb asked me to write an Earth Day article for Building Moxie. I was extremely honored when he asked me to submit another one this year. Last year’s Earth Day theme was A Billion Acts of Green, and I’d written an article called “Earth Day: Three Simple Acts That Can Make A Difference“. It illustrated three simple, personal acts of green that nearly anyone could undertake. My motivation was to throw a few good ideas out there, for anyone who might’ve been looking for some guidance in getting started.

Editor’s Note: For all of John Poole‘s posts supporting Earth Day, find the tag on this site: Earth Day.

* Water is the Most Important Resource on the Planet

This year, however, I’d like to focus specifically on water and water conservation. Why? Because water is the most important resource on this planet. None of us can live without it. Those of us fortunate enough to have a safe and reliable water supply tend to take water for granted. But for many throughout the world, obtaining a sufficient amount of clean, potable water, on a daily basis, is a significant challenge. And even here in the United States, there are many regions prone to drought conditions, and anticipating severe water shortages as summers get longer and hotter.

Water deserves our respect, and our best efforts when it comes to its conservation and efficient use. So, in continuing the spirit of last year’s article, here are three acts of water conservation that many readers likewise can readily accomplish.

Fix Leaks

Leaks are pernicious water wasters. Even the seemingly innocuous late night “tap…..tap…..tap” of a leaky kitchen faucet is bad news. If you don’t believe me, put a bowl or plastic bucket in the sink overnight, or for the better part of a day. See how much water accumulates, and you might be quite surprised.

Dripping Kitchen Faucet Valve :: Water on Faucet

An honest-to-goodness leaky kitchen faucet valve that the author needs to fix.

We all need to periodically, and diligently, check for leaking pipes, valves (especially in our basements, as many of us don’t frequent our basements), fixtures, and faucets, and then take steps to fix them. In many cases, a homeowner can fix a leaking faucet or bathroom valve on their own. But keep in mind that not all leaks are immediately obvious. For example, does your toilet tank ever automatically re-fill itself on occasion, even though you didn’t flush it? That means the rubber flapper valve in the bottom of your tank is worn and is in need of replacing.

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For some great insights into the kinds of problems caused by leaks, and a list of related resources, check out the article Fix a Leak Week: A Recap of Resources and a Rant by our good friend Sean Lintow Sr of SLS Construction.

Reduce Water Use

There basically are two aspects to reducing or minimizing your overall use of water:

1) Limit the amount of water used in satisfying any demand for water;

2) Reduce your overall demand for water, in the first place.

Strategies for this include installing low-flow aerators and shower heads throughout your home, setting your washing machine for a load one size smaller than what you’re actually washing, and upgrading to higher efficiency washing machines, dishwashers, and toilets. (For a good resource of water and energy saving tips, see Green Tips, published by the World Wildlife Federation. Many thanks to our other good friend, Alexandra Williams, for pointing this one out).

Installing a a low flow aerator kitchen spray head

Installing a low-flow aerator in a kitchen spray-head. Most home owners can accomplish this themselves, using basic tools.

Now, in a certain sense, it helps to think of any outflow of water from your domestic water system as a “leak”. The leaks we talked about eliminating in the previous paragraph are uncontrolled leaks. But the rest are controlled leaks — necessary evils that we nonetheless must be able to quantify, manage, and account for.

Affixing 3rd party rated, high efficiency appliances, or flow-restricting elements, to those outflows is precisely what puts us in a position to start managing their use. And it’s the effective management of our water resource that we’re really trying to achieve here (and not buy our way to sustainability just by purchasing a lot of cool gadgets).

* Measuring Water Usage

For example, if I have a 1.5 gallon per minute shower head, I know that a five minute shower is going to expend about 7.5 gallons of water. But a twenty minute shower will require 30 gallons. Am I really going to be any cleaner after wasting an additional 22.5 gallons of water? Of course not! So say good bye to long showers (and say goodbye to water wasting baths, too). This is what I mean by resource management based on measurement and quantification. Ultimately, none of this will work without committing to some thoughtful adjustments to one’s lifestyle and daily habits.

Low-flow shower heads

The fixed shower-head has a 1.5 gpm flow, but hardly feels like it. The hand-held is a bit more (2.5 gpm), but is used only occasionally.

Reuse Water, Whenever Possible

At first blush, this might seem contradictory. Most of us are used to releasing water down the drain after a single application. But there are strategies whereby you can get at least two uses out of the same quantity of water.

If you’re serious about gardening, and you have no state or municipal restrictions preventing it, consider using a rain barrel (or two) to collect and store irrigation water. This is done either directly from the sky, or from a downspout of your gutter system. While this might not seem like double-use, it actually is: The water first hydrates your garden plants, and then eventually passes down to the aquifer below, which is where it would’ve gone anyway (a good reason to avoid chemical fertilizers or pesticides).

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* What about Greywater

If you want to take this a step further, consider capturing and re-using greywater. This is the waste water created by washing dishes and laundry (not toilet waste!). As long as you restrict yourself to using natural and biodegradable detergents (that is, those containing plant products, not animal products, or harsh chemicals), there’s no harm in re-using greywater to irrigate your organic garden or lawn.

Eco-Friendly Laundry Detergent Bottle

The author’s own favorite eco-friendly detergent with compost-able packaging, for both machine and hand washing.

But how do you accomplish this, you ask, given that most of our dishwashers, sinks, and washing machines are plumbed directly to either a municipal sewage or septic system?

The truly ambitious might construct a greywater irrigation system for this very purpose. This is what yet another good friend of ours, Allison Bailes, did a while back. He wrote about it in his blog post How to Install a Branched-Drain Greywater System in a Green Home. But if this isn’t feasible in your particular situation, then what?

* Hand Washing Clothes

Well, in that case, the even more ambitious and committed among us will consider a regimen of hand-washing and rack or line drying, followed by manual greywater collection. Yes, that’s right; that’s what I said — hand washing of laundry and dishes. It’s what your grandparents did, and they got by just fine, didn’t they? Heck, give every member of the family a role in this, and make it into something enjoyable and unifying!

Gathering well water

An antiquarian gathering well water into a wooden washtub at the Rev. Richard Mansfield House, Ansonia, Connecticut (circa late 1800s/early 1900s).

I fully realize the second proposal above sounds inconceivable to many readers.  But on a serious note, please keep in mind that our reliance on energy-burning and water-consuming appliances. They became ingrained in our collective psyche during the era of cheap fossil fuels (which, itself, is now rapidly drawing to a close). One of the factors that’s gotten us into this threatened situation in the first place.

As I’d said previously, dealing with this situation all boils down to the quantification and proper management of our use of water (our most precious resource), and the consequential and necessary lifestyle changes that inevitably ensue.


Notes from the hosts: And with all that, may everyone have a safe, happy, and meaningful Earth Day!

For more on water conservation, please see our tag = Water Conservation. ~jb