Reducing your water footprint

reduce your water footprint
California is suffering through yet another drought. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says it’s the worst on record, and there’s no sign of it easing anytime soon.

Reservoirs in the state are seeing water levels reaching half of what they should be during this time of year. The governor issued a state of emergency, asking residents to limit their water usage.

california drought A 5 MPH boating speed limit buoy is stuck in the ground as there is no water to be seen at Black Butte Lake near Orland Buttes Recreation Area after Gov. Jerry Brown formally proclaimed California in drought emergency as evident by the areas in Butte and Glenn Counties Friday Jan. 17, 2014 in Chico, Calif. (AP Photo/Chico Enterprise-Record, Jason Halley)[/caption]California has two distinct seasons: wet and dry. The winter months are normally mild and wet, with the state receiving more than half of its normal precipitation between the months of December and February.

Once again, this has not happened. Winter precipitation totals have been well below normal, sending the state into drought conditions and forcing residents to conserve water.

To pull itself out of drought, the state would need a substantial amount of rain. According to NOAA, any precipitation that falls from the sky is immediately absorbed into the ground. To have any meaningful impact, water would not only have to be absorbed, but also run off to recharge reservoirs.

That being said, every one of us needs to get into the habit of conserving water now. We are fortunate in Ontario that we seldom have to worry about drought. We can learn from California’s water situation — we all need to get into the habit of conserving our water now, should such a natural disaster ever impact our region down the road.

Our Water Footprint

Water was the topic of conversation across our nation last week as Canada celebrated Water Week (coinciding with World Water Day). The week of education and discovery was centered on water-related issues to spur an interest in water and make Canadians more aware of this precious resource that we all appear to take for granted.

We hear a lot about carbon footprints and their effect on the environment, but we seldom think about our water usage and consider the implications of it — our water footprint.

Our water footprint goes far beyond what we consume by turning on the tap or flushing the toilet. Though this accounts for some of the most visible uses of water, over 90% of an individual’s water consumption is hidden in the production of the food we eat, the clothes we wear, and the products we use each day. Making informed choices about what you buy can go a long way in shrinking your water footprint.

Climate change, population growth, and industrial activity are increasing pressure on our local water supplies. When water levels drop, human health and the environment are put at serious risk. Lower water levels can contribute to higher concentrations of natural and human pollutants. Using water more efficiently helps maintain supplies at safe levels for humans and wildlife.

One of the largest uses of water isn’t within the home at all, but outdoors on lawns and gardens. Throughout the coming spring and summer, we will collectively use hundreds of thousands of litres of water ensuring we have the greenest of lawns and healthiest of gardens.

A simple and easy way to reduce your outdoor water usage is to purchase a rain barrel. Rain barrels quickly store large quantities of water that you can have for immediate use on lawns and gardens.

We can also reduce our water usage indoors. Running the dishwasher only when it’s full, doing full loads of laundry, and taking shorter showers are all easy ways to significantly reduce water use inside the home.

Using water efficiently is also very important and can aid in shrinking your water footprint. Lots of people wash their cars in the driveway. It’s one of those chores that seems less like work when it’s a bright sunny day and you can get a tan in the process. In most cases, all that water heads straight for the nearest storm drain when it runs off your car. To avoid this, try parking your car on the lawn. This method not only prevents the water from running off, but you’re also watering your lawn at same time — a first step to begin using water more efficiently.

It’s clear that water is one of our most important natural resources and we must do whatever we can to preserve, conserve, and protect it. While we use it daily and rarely face shortages, we must stop taking this valuable resource for granted.

Test your Knowledge

What common household fixture sucks up the most water – the shower, the toilet, or the washing machine? If you’re having trouble with this question, don’t worry, you’re in good company. Most North Americans are ignorant of the true water needs of their household activities. Think you can perform better than this poor-scoring crowd? You can find out by trying to answer the 10 questions here. They’re not precisely the same as the ones in the survey, but they should give you insight into the actual impact your behavior has on the communal watering hole. (You can find many of the question’s sources here.)