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Water Conservation Experiment 9 August 2009

Posted by The Inimitable M in Environment.
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I’ve heard alot of people talk about water conservation because, after all, we are made of water, drink water, use water – and who is to say our water supply may not at some point be limited?  Not only that, but what if you were in a situation where your water supply was cut off and you were stuck for a few days without (i.e., Katrina, the winter blizzards in the west/midwest, and so forth)?

I read a little on water conservation, and came across these bits primarily from the USGS Water Conservation  site:

To do the following, it takes about this much water:

Brush your teeth – 2 to 5 gallons
Flush the toilet – 2 to 7 gallons (each flush)
Take a shower or bath – 17 to 24 gallons
How much you should drink each day – 2.5 quarts
Using the dishwasher – 9-12 gallons
Hand wash dishes – 20 gallons

I shook my head.  I know I use water more judiciously than that.  In fact, I know I can use it more judiciously than I do.  I remember distinctly when the well would freeze in the winter and we had to make do – and in the summer, come to think of it, when the well was really pretty low.

I decided to run an experiment on my water usage, and think about what I was doing.  Since my clothes were already clean and ready to go for next week anyway, I didn’t include laundry in this – but for those of you who are interested, the estimated water use for doing one load of laundry is 35-50 gallons.  Outside of that, I figured what better way to calculate the use of one person than to be a one-person household?  That would be me…well…one person, one dog, one adult cat and the 4KotA.  

I buy water to drink and use in cooking because there are “acceptable” levels of the bacteria that is the basis for e coli in our tap water here in Hell’s Silver City addition. ( To me, there are no acceptable levels, but that’s another blog entirely.)  I usually save the gallon jugs to refill at the store, but opted to fill them from the tap for this experiment.  I had 10 of them.  That would be my measure in those 10 one-gallon jugs. 

Friday night I washed the dishes in 2 gallons of water – one gallon to wash and one gallon to rinse.  I had three plates, two glasses, my coffee cup, the two pans in which I cooked dinner, three forks, two knives, two spoons, one spatula, one large wooden spoon, and I washed out the coffee pot.  The thing about hand washing dishes is to use the old method – start with the lightly soiled dishes first and work your way to the worst.  Wash the dishes right away after use, use a sponge with a scrubby side, don’t be thinking you have to soak everything till hell freezes over, don’t be thinking you have to put the dishwashing liquid into the tub (use it on the sponge and save that way, too) and I will say this:  God bless the person who invented Dawn dishwashing liquid.  You have to pay attention to what you’re doing, and be careful about how much goes down the drain while you’re doing this.  If you’re using two washtubs, and you pour a little of the rinse water over the dishes, holding them over the washing tub it turns out brilliantly and none of the water goes down the drain.  So far, you’ve wasted nothing. 

So what do you do with the water when you’re done?

Flush the toilet.  It says above it takes 2-7 gallons each flush.  No, it doesn’t.  When you dump the water from the tub into the toilet bowl, the force of the water from that angle is very much like the water going over Niagara Falls, and thus pushes whatever is in there down the sewer quite nicely.  The wash water will take care of one flush, while the rinse water will take care of the next one.  One gallon each.  (Toilets are not built for efficient use of the water supply.  They’re built strictly for convenience and leave the “efficiency” to the people who don’t give a tinker’s dam about “efficiency”.  If any of them cared, they would certainly be doing things differently.)

Oh, and I filled the wee beasties’ water “tanks”, which gives them enough water for a couple of days.  That was almost two gallons of water, so we’ll estimate it at that amount.

So far, between doing the dishes and flushing the toilet and watering the pets, I’ve used an entire 4 gallons of water, having saved a minimum of 17 gallons in about an hour according to the USGS estimates listed above.

Saturday morning, I washed up for the day.  I skipped both lying in the bathtub, and letting water run down the drain while taking a shower, using the washtub method again.  I can get darn clean with one gallon of water.  I did it in 10 minutes.  It says it takes 2 gallons of water to brush your teeth.  Only if you leave the water running!!!  I brushed my teeth and cleaned out the sink afterwards with 1 quart of water.  Give me a break, people!  I can tell you this, judging by what I did brushing my teeth Saturday morning I have never used 2 gallons of water!

I’ll be honest.  I didn’t skimp on the amount of water I drank on Saturday.  It was closer to 3 quarts.

When I cleaned the kitchen and bathroom on Saturday, I used another 3 gallons of water.  All my floors are hardwood, and they really don’t need much water for a good mopping.  I use a hardwood floor cleaner and use the water for rinsing out the mop.  That ended up being about one gallon of water, because I didn’t turn around and squeeze the mop back into the bucket of water.  I squeezed it out into a different bucket, and kept the one for just dipping the mop into it.  That water stayed cleaner that way, and really, you’re not spreading the dirt around more.  I also don’t slop water around when I’m cleaning fixtures, so I used about a gallon of water for cleaning purposes in the kitchen and another gallon in the bathroom.

I discovered you can, indeed, dye your hair carefully and only use another gallon of water for rinsing, cleaning out the sink, and the conditioner thing afterward.  The key is in optimal pouring methods over your head.  Trust me on this.  Anyone who wants a demo, you just let me know. 

And what did I do with all the water when I was done?  You guessed it.  Flushed the toilet.

Just an FYI – I did fill up the gallon jugs as I was using them, keeping the stock at about 10 and taking good notes. 

I waited to wash all the dishes from the day and used the same two-gallon method I’d used Friday night with approximately the same amount of dishes.

In the day Saturday, including the water I drank, I used 8 gallons of water.  I saved, according to the estimates above, a minimum of approximately 42 gallons not including an estimate for how much water is actually used for mopping floors and cleaning the kitchen and bath.

Sunday has been only slightly different.  I didn’t clean the house.  I did the same thing with bathing.  It took 2 gallons to wash my hair normally (this included the getting the hair wet part), will do the dishes as I had been, drink the same amount of water, and I have been flushing the toilet the same way.

I will end up using 6 gallons by the end of the day.

The USGS says in the notes above that the average person uses 50 gallons of water a day.  How are they figuring that, and why are they indicating by using that number that this is okay?  It’s not. 

If I can get by on less than 10 gallons of water a day, then so could everyone else.  Seriously.  I don’t need a dishwasher (I have one), and I don’t absolutely have to use the shower to get clean.  I certainly don’t use 2 gallons of water to brush my teeth, and I can be aware of how much water I could misuse just in cleaning.

I think I did well.  I also think I can get by, if ever in a water crisis, with about of 8 gallons of water per day, giving me a little cushion, just in case. 

I’m a big fan of Frank B. and Lillian M. Gilbreth.  I’m a flower child from the hippie generation.  I am part scientist, part time/motion study student, part “prove them wrong” snob, and all nerd.  I also used to camp a lot and spend a lot of time on the farm – my aunt’s and my ex’s parents, as well as the year we lived in eastern Iowa. 

Maybe we don’t have to do this now, but keep in mind the day may come when this information will come in handy.  You just never know.  Ask anyone who was in New Orleans during Katrina.  All I can say is this:  if I can do it, anyone can do it.