Five tips on how to reduce water usage and your bill

By Peter Lynch, Environmental Engineer, Argonne National Laboratory

Maintaining an adequate supply of clean water is becoming a big challenge for cities and towns across the nation, including the Chicagoland region, as urban development increases demand on finite water resource supplies. Wastewater and stormwater are also being generated at a growing rate due to expanded urban development. In most communities, particularly older ones, drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities were designed for smaller populations and they’re now experiencing an increase in maintenance costs, service interruptions and water main breaks due to aging infrastructure and the inability to process larger water loads. These issues contribute to increasing water prices.

Argonne National Laboratory is a small community in itself, serving a population of about 3,600 people. Argonne has numerous buildings, miles of roads, construction projects, several restaurants and cafés, a hotel and acres of parking lots. Like any older community, Argonne also manages an aging infrastructure, including miles of sewers and drinking water lines and wastewater treatment facilities dating back to the 1950s. Argonne has identified some best practices to meet water reduction and aging infrastructure challenges: installation of “low-flow” faucet fixtures, conversion of “once-through” equipment cooling systems with cooling water recirculation systems and sustainable management of stormwater by retaining it on site. These measures result in about 29 million gallons of water and $75,000 saved per year.

Homeowners are also able to reduce their water bills with five easy actions:

  1. Turn off the tap while brushing your teeth and take showers instead of baths. Half of water used at home is used in the bathroom. Shutting off the tap when you are not actually using it can result in big savings and showers use less water than baths.
  2. Wash dishes when the dishwasher is full and keep faucet off when washing dishes in the sink. Washing full loads of dishes results in using the machine less often and also less water. When washing dishes in the sink, use the sink basin as a water tub and use the faucet only to rinse, rather than letting the water run the whole time.
  3. Water the grass less often to promote deeper grass roots and healthier lawns. Grass roots seek out water and will not go deep if water is always coming from above (i.e., your sprinkler). In a drought, shallow roots demand more frequent watering and are more susceptible to drought damage. When you do water the lawn, water early in the day when evaporation is less likely and water the grass a bit longer to allow the water to go deep. This will encourage grass roots to grow deeper.
  4. Capture roof run-off using rain barrels and use that water for plant watering. It’s free and better for the plants than tap water from the hose.
  5. Fix a leak. This may be the single best strategy to reduce water consumption and lower your bill. A typical household leaks about 10,000 gallons of water each year. A running toilet and dripping faucet means wasted water and money. A few times each year, check faucets and toilets for leaks.

Posted March 8, 2013