If you live in California, you’re probably uncomfortably familiar with the term “drought” and what it can mean for agriculture, wildfires, and access to safe drinking water. While we’re technically out of the most severe part of the drought thanks to a rainy fall and winter, it doesn’t mean the water crisis here or around the world is any less dire.
Cities like Cape Town have famously approached a “Day Zero,” a hypothetical day where there is not enough water left to serve the city’s needs. During the peak of the Cape Town water crisis, residents were limited to 25L (5.5 gallons) a day. This impacted the economy because workers were forced to take time off of work to wait in line for water, but it also posed a lot of questions about class because many of the wealthier residents were able to source water from outside of the municipal water district or simply leave the area, leaving lower-income residents to bear the brunt of the water restrictions, despite the fact that wealthier residents were the ones using more water.
One of the main issues we're facing in tackling climate change is that the people contributing the most to the issues are not the ones immediately feeling the impact.
This is especially true with water-- in California, for instance, citizens in wealthy neighborhoods like Seal Beach are using up to 330 gallons of water per day, while low-income communities of color, especially in agricultural communities, have been living without clean drinking water for years. Internationally, Cape Town is just the most extreme example of cities all over the world who are running out of water.
It's time to take responsibility for the impact of our water usage, regardless of whether or not we're the ones being directly affected by a lack of water.
Here are some of the most impactful ways to make that happen:
- This is an oldie but a goodie- don’t leave the tap running when you’re not using it! This includes brushing your teeth, washing your face, or washing the dishes-- if you don’t need the water running, turn it off! This also includes taking shorter showers-- each minute with a regular shower head uses 7-10 gallons of water a minute, so be mindful of how long you’re spending getting clean.
- Reuse water! There are many instances in our household where we send perfectly good, safe water down the drain. This is an easy place to start reusing. You can keep a bucket in your bathroom to collect the cold shower water while you’re waiting for the water to heat up, and use that to water your garden. You can also use used bath water to flush the toilet- old toilet models can use between 1.6 up to 7 gallons per flush, so this swap can be very impactful for your water bill!
- If it’s accessible to you, swap out your household machines and appliances for high efficiency ones. This includes washers, dishwashers, etc. While these appliances sometimes mean a higher up front cost, you will end up saving money in the long term because they use less water and electricity.
- If you’re lucky enough to have a yard or garden, take care of it sustainably. Time your watering for the early morning or late evening to prevent as much evaporation as possible, and water with recycled water from your house. Especially if you live in a dry area, switch out water heavy crops for drought resistant ones (like kurapia for grass or succulents and cacti) and focus on planting plants that are native to your area to reduce how much extra watering they require.
- Consider investing in a grey water system, which takes “grey water” (used water that is not potable but not toxic), and recycles it for use in systems like irrigation. Read more about what greywater and what a greywater system could look like in your home here!
- Fill it up! If you have an automatic dishwasher and/or laundry machine, fill it up completely every time you run it to prevent wasted water. Also, using these machines uses less water than washing by hand, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the convenience of saving water.
- Check for leaks around your house regularly. Pipes, toilets, sinks, and irrigation systems can waste hundreds of gallons just from leaks, and it’s pretty simple to check them frequently to verify they’re staying water-tight.
- Not all of our water usage as individuals is measured from the tap-- a ton of the water used is to produce food and goods for our consumption. For instance, plant and animal agriculture are incredible resource-heavy (one hamburger using the same amount of water has leaving your shower running for 3 hours straight!). Reducing how much food you buy and waste (especially meat and diary) has a bigger impact on global water usage than any other day-to-day change. You can read more about why (and how!) to reduce your meat and dairy intake here, and about food waste here.