Your Water Conservation Questions Answered and Advice for Renters

Why conserving water matters, even when it's pouring, and solving the renter's eco-troubles.

| January/Febraury 2009

  • Water shortages are expected in 36 U.S. states within the next 10 years.

Q: We are doing a discussion course on sustainability at work, and someone asked, “Is it necessary for us to conserve water here in Portland despite the seeming abundance and replenishment? If so, why?” My response was not as strong or compelling as I would like. Can you help? —Rick R., Portland, Oregon

A: With our nation’s range of climates, some see the need to change water habits now as others wonder if it will ever stop raining. But two issues will affect global water supplies: climate change and population increases. North America has 7 percent of the world’s population and 15 percent of its fresh water, but we are wasting this bounty; within 10 years, scientists predict water shortages in 36 U.S. states.

An easy answer to folks unsure about water conservation—but who support reducing energy consumption—is this:

Water conservation often also conserves fossil fuels. Easy places to conserve are in laundry, dishes and personal hygiene, which make up 50 to 60 percent of indoor water use (toilets and leaks make up the rest). Efficient fixtures and appliances can reduce use up to 35 percent.  And about 50 percent of landscape water, a third of total use, goes to waste.  Municipal water requires a complex infrastructure of filtration, storage and delivery. If a population expands, its system’s capacity must expand. This has environmental and financial costs: Where will the water come from? Who and what suffers from removing it? Conservation can reduce these expansions.

Our transforming weather has serious implications for water availability.  With more droughts, more heavy rain or heavier snow melt, our current storage systems may not be prepared.  Water conservation will also require new technology, from low-flow faucets to larger solutions for industry, utilities and landscape design. Americans play a role in supporting, testing and adopting such technologies. 

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