Water Conservation Questions and Answers

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This web page answers basic questions about water conservation.

Conservación del Agua – Preguntas y Respuestas

Water conservation

     What is water conservation? Answer...

Conserving water simply means not wasting it. One easy example is to turn off the water when you are brushing your teeth or shaving. That’s water you are not using and it is literally just going down the drain.

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     Why conserve water? Answer...

There are many good reasons. Some of the most important are:

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Saving water in times of drought

     In times of drought, why can’t Washington’s governor impose mandatory water restrictions on public utilities like the governor of California? Answer...

Our state constitution does not expressly grant the governor the power to issue an order for water restrictions that would have the effect of law. This authority would have to be granted by the Legislature through state law or by citizens amending the state Constitution.

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     Don’t we have lots of water in Washington state? It seems like it’s always raining, at least on the west side? Answer...

The problem is not rainfall, it’s snowpack. Although the amount of rainfall in 2014-5 was not significantly different than in previous years, temperatures were about 4 degrees higher than normal. This meant that less snow accumulated in the mountains, and what did stay melted early. This left limited mountain snow to store water for summer uses. A new term has been coined to describe this situation: “snowpack drought.”

Snowpack is critical to our water supplies in many river basins of the state, providing a frozen reservoir during the winter that feeds our rivers and streams in the spring and summer as it melts. Nearly all water used to supply cities, farms and industry in the Western U.S. comes from melting snow in the high mountains.

Even before the current warming trend, Washington’s natural weather cycle results in most of our precipitation coming in the winter months when water demands are the lowest. Water is least available in the summer and early fall, when demands are highest.

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     What are the economic impacts of drought? Answer...

Water is essential to the health of our state’s economy. One of the most obvious sectors affected by the 2015 drought was agriculture. But many other businesses suffered, as did the environment, which in turn impacted other human endeavors. (Think ripple effect, or when you change one part of a system, it affects other parts.)

The state Dept. of Agriculture issued an interim report (December 2015) on crop losses and estimates the economic impact of the 2015 drought on the state’s agricultural industry at more than $335 million. The total is expected to increase as the drought affected the quality and quantity of some Washington crops going to market in coming months. Agriculture accounts for 13-15% of our state’s economy each year, and supports over 160,000 jobs.

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     What is the state doing about water conservation? Answer...

The state has taken the lead on water conservation in several ways. For example, the Capital campus:

Governor Jay Inslee declared a statewide drought on May 15, 2015; the declaration expired December 31, 2015. Early on, the Washington Dept. of Enterprise Services took measures to save water on the 485-acre Capital Campus, providing a model for other state agencies and businesses. DES started by not turning on the historic Tivoli Fountain, which loses about 2,000 gallons of water a day through evaporation, wind spray and leakage. The watering of campus lawns, trees and shrubs was significantly reduced.

Conservation measures put in place in 2007 were checked for their effectiveness. By installing low-flow plumbing fixtures – especially sinks, toilets and hot water heaters – DES has successfully reduced annual campus water use by 34 percent. In 2007, we used 44 million gallons but by 2014, the total amount had steadily dropped to 29 million gallons.

DES groundskeepers have been shifting to more environmentally-friendly care and maintenance practices designed to save water and lower operating costs while maintaining and enhancing the beauty of the Capitol grounds.

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Making a difference in your home and yard

     How can I, one person or family, make a difference for water conservation? Answer...

Of course, no one person can solve the daunting problem of growing demands on a finite resource. But this is a case where there is strength in numbers: each of us making small changes together results in big changes. And for most of us, small changes at home are the easiest place to start. Doing something is better than doing nothing.

So what can one person do? Here are a few ideas, and the amount of water that could be saved:

  1. A simple action like turning off the water when brushing your teeth can save up to 4 gallons a minute. Assuming you brush your teeth twice a day, one person can save 2,920 gallons a year. The savings if everyone in the U.S. did it for one year: more than four times the Mississippi River’s annual flow of water.
  2. Another example: using low-flow showerheads. If you take a daily 5-minute shower using one of these showerheads, you would save enough water in a year to fill a 15-foot aboveground pool (4,550 gallons). If everyone in the U.S. did this for one year, the water savings would be enough to fill about 2,100 Giants Stadiums. (Showering uses less water than taking a bath. And some good news about low-flow showerheads: many public utilities offer these to their customers free. They are still a bargain to purchase, for as little as $10-$20.)
  3. Still need convincing? Try using a lower setting on your dishwasher. (It is almost never necessary to use the normal setting, or to rinse the plates first. And of course, always run it with a full load.) You can reduce your water use by 55%, for a yearly savings of 2,860 gallons. If every household in the U.S. did this for one year, we could save the amount of water equal to covering that whole state of Rhode Island with a foot of water.

Source: Real Simple.com

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     What can I do indoors (kitchen, bathroom, and sinks)? Answer...

Tips for conserving water are abundant on the Internet. Refer to the last question on this page for resources.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Bathroom

Kitchen

Sinks

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     Do I have to spend a lot of money and get new water-saving appliances? Answer...

When you are able, water-savings appliances will make a big difference in your water bill.

Look for Water Sense and Energy Star labels. Most public utilities have water conservation programs, check on rebate options. You will eventually get back the money you spend on these appliances in the form of lower utility bills.

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     What can I do to save water outdoors? Answer...

Keep these tips in mind when doing your lawn and garden chores:

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     Can I still have a garden? Answer...

Of course! Limited water and gardens can go hand-in-hand, with some thought and planning. Look into native and drought-resistant plants. Visit your local xeriscape garden to view plants that thrive in our hot desert environment. Consider attending a landscape class hosted by a water provider or your local conservation district. Most workshops occur in the spring and fall. (Fall is the best time for planting.)

There are many tips on-line for keeping your lawn while using less water (See the last question.) Or consider a whole new vision of a lawn, an Eco-lawn.

You can be water-efficient and still enjoy a garden. It just requires a little planning and imagination.

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     What about collecting water in rain barrels? Answer...

Rainwater is an eco-friendly water supply. Large cisterns can store enough water to enable continued toilet flushing with rainwater through the summer, and can be used along with an existing source for small irrigation needs. Collecting rainwater in rain barrels can be an answer too. The rainwater storage system may also be used to store groundwater withdrawn under the groundwater permit exemption, i.e. an owner may pump groundwater in the winter, store it, and then use it in the spring and summer.

Ecology’s rainwater interpretive policy states that the storage and use of the rainwater must occur on the same parcel as the roof from which the water was captured. More information on rainwater collection.

For automatic water savings, direct water from rain gutters and HVAC systems to water-loving plants in your landscape.

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Start now and save for the future

     What could water conservation look like in the future? Answer...

We have no crystal ball, of course, but some of the things that are already underway include:

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     Where can I go for more information?
Answer...

Here are some of the numerous sites on the Web that offer information on water conservation.

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