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Water Conservation Techniques Both New and Old

We’ve just enjoyed a few days of much-needed wet weather here in the Bay Area, but it still wasn’t enough to have a significant impact on the state’s water supplies with the big reservoirs still at much lower levels than normal. To that end, we thought this was a good opportunity to both look to the past for inspiration on water conservation ideas and investigate the latest ideas for being more efficient with this vital resource.

  • Capturing rainwater in oak barrels. This is an age-old solution that, like the best ideas tend to be, is extremely simple and straightforward to execute. They are a great way of limiting storm-water run-off and ideal to store water for later use. According to this overview, during a one-inch rainstorm, 0.6 gallons of water will fall on a square foot of roof and 54 gallons will fall on 90 square feet of roof, enough to fill a 55 gallon rain barrel. Rainwater is good for your garden as well, being naturally “soft” and without the chlorine and other chemicals found in city water.
  • Underground water storage. Storing water underground to prevent evaporation is a time-honored technique that is being increasingly employed today. Evaporation can be a major problem for some reservoirs: according to this report from The Texas Tribune, “In 2011, more water evaporated out of Lakes Travis and Buchanan in Central Texas than was used by their largest city customer, Austin.” Underground water storage also reduces the need to dam up rivers. As we experience more extreme weather and get better at capturing excess water on an industrial scale,  this is a great solution for being able to use that water at a later date.
  • Gray water. Gray water is water from bathroom sinks, showers, tubs and washing machines. It may contain some soap and other non-harmful residues, but is clean enough to water plants. Ever mindful of the need to conserve water in any way we can, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has created a technical resource for anyone wanting to install gray water systems for outdoor irrigation, which you can download here. This is a great way of decreasing water usage and cutting down on utilities costs at the same time.

While these techniques might not be an option for all of us, here are a few other ideas that can make a difference for any company’s water usage.

  • Get your employees on board. Make them aware of the need to conserve water, and encourage people to submit their own ideas as to how. This doesn’t need to stop in the office. To truly impact change, provide a central hub for people to share, learn and pledge their new water-saving behaviors (e.g. taking 2 minute showers, cutting down or eliminating sprinkler use).
  • Use energy- and water-efficient appliances. If you can, supply water-efficient appliances such as toilets and faucets. Look for the EPA WaterSense labels on any new products to ensure you’re getting the real deal. If your kitchen has a dishwasher, make sure it is a water-efficient one. Encourage staff to scrape rather than rinse food from their plates and have a rule that it must be full before being run. When it comes to conserving water, every small action counts.
  • Lose the lawn. If you have outside space, create a water-smart landscaped area. There are lots of ideas and tips for this on the EPA website, and a quick online search will help you locate companies in your area to do this – or even use it as an opportunity for an internal team-building project and do it as a group.
  • Speak to your local PUC. Check with your local public utility to see if they conduct a water usage evaluation. Many utilities provide this service for free, and it’s a very effective way of spotting new or unseen ways of cutting down on water consumption.

There are lots (one hundred, in fact) more great water-saving tips here if you’re looking for further inspiration. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the sunshine but hope for gray skies soon.


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