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Saving our bacon through water conservation

December 7, 2012
By Jeff Feldman , Blue Ridge Press

Prepare for the coming bacon shortage! This year's record drought - which still covers more than half the nation - has ravaged corn and soybean crops, raising prices for pig feed. Farmers are raising fewer hogs. Fewer hogs, less bacon.

While you rage over the coming "Aporkalypse," consider its source - a truly neglected crisis: climate change is making severe drought and major long-term water shortages commonplace.

That's serious because everything we eat depends on water. But water is also essential for energy (think hydropower and power plant cooling), transportation (think Mississippi River barges), forestry and ecosystem management, and even tourism. In this light, water is an important pocketbook issue. Saving water literally means saving our bacon.

Obviously, we can all do better at conserving this vital, increasingly scarce resource. Here are some simple and some more involved "home how-to's" for reducing water consumption:

-Know where the water goes: The first step to conserving water is knowing where you're using it. The average four-person U.S. household utilizes 400 gallons each day. Nearly 30 percent is literally flushed down the toilet. Another 20-plus percent goes to wash clothes, and 17 percent goes to bathing. An online water consumption calculator ( can guide you through your own home water usage audit. Cost? Free!

-Slow the flow: Turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth is an admonishment you maybe first heard from your grandmother. Such "Depression-era" wisdom applies today. Don't let the water run when doing dishes, shaving or brushing teeth. Take shorter showers. Run only full loads in the washing machine and dishwasher. A little awareness can save a lot of water. Cost? Free!

-Stop those leaks: An astounding 13 percent of an average home's water is lost via plumbing leaks. Even a small drip can add up to big waste. To see if you've got leaks, simply record the reading on your home's water meter. Stop using water for two hours; then check the meter again. If it shows water use, you've got a leak to find. Check toilets first; they can waste 200 gallons daily. To test, put some food coloring in the toilet tank. Wait 30 minutes. If the food coloring appears in the bowl, the tank is leaking. Cost? Finding leaks, free. Plumbing repairs, extra.

-Replace wasteful plumbing fixtures: Replacing old faucets and shower heads with water-saving fixtures allows you to conserve without even thinking about it. Ideally, you want no more than a 1.5 gallons-per-minute (gpm) flow rate for bathroom sinks and 2 gpm for shower heads, says the EPA's WaterSense Program ( You can measure each fixture's gpm easily with a timer and graduated container. Turn the water on; collect for 15 seconds; then multiply that amount by four to find gpm flow rate. Cost? Measuring flow, free! Altering or replacing fixtures: $1.50 for a faucet aerator, $100-plus for a new faucet or shower head.

-Replace worn-out water hogs: Replacing old toilets, washing machines and dishwashers with more efficient ones can offer big water savings. Older toilets, for example, use 3.5 gallons per flush while newer, dual-flush models can use just 1.1 gallons per flush. Compare water-saving features when shopping. Cost? $20 for a dual-flush toilet conversion kit, under $1,000 for new washers and dishwashers.

-Water your lawn less: Almost one-third of all U.S. residential water use - 7 billion gallons daily - goes to landscape irrigation. To cut back, lose the lawn and plant a less thirsty, native plant landscape. Not ready for that? Then consider how you irrigate your Kentucky blue. Apply just 1 inch of water weekly, early in the morning to reduce evaporation. Or water with collected rainwater; it's far cheaper than municipal water. A simple rain barrel or rainwater capture system, like the Rain Xchange ( does the job. Cost? Rain barrels can be found and rigged up for free. Rainwater capture systems can cost several thousand dollars.

-Install a graywater system: Graywater systems recycle water from sinks and showers for irrigation or to flush toilets. Such systems require re-plumbing water drain lines. Local health authorities may restrict graywater systems, so check your local codes. For more graywater info, visit Cost? Several thousand dollars.

Water is precious and scarce. Saving it is both patriotic and common-sense. While your individual efforts may seem a mere drop in the bucket, the combined efforts of many could quite possibly save our bacon!


Jeff Feldman runs GreenPath Consulting, a green building consulting firm in Shepherdstown, W.Va. You can email him at



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