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Water – Every Drop Counts

Wendell Berry, the great American man of letters & conservationist, has made the observation that one of the most important tasks facing modern, American society is the identification of those things which possess “absolute value.” A thing possesses absolute value when – without it – all other types of value (economic, aesthetic, cultural, etc.) become meaningless. A few examples of things with absolute value would be healthy topsoil, clean air, and fresh water.

Fresh water has been getting plenty of press lately in Central Texas, and for good reason. On a short list of things precious to people and the rest of natural life, water is at the top. Customers of the City of Austin Water Utility receive their drinking water from two water treatment plants that pump surface water from the Colorado River as it flows into Lake Austin. Currently in America, 55 percent of our rivers and streams are in poor condition and the Colorado River is unfortunately in that ignoble 55 percent. In fact, if the lakes around the Austin area (which we use as water reserves) continue to see the kind of record low inflows they have seen recently, there is a real possibility that they could go dry in about two or three years. This would be a multi-layered problem of a scale we haven’t seen often in Austin… socially, ecologically, agriculturally, recreationally, and aesthetically.

Water is precious, and it needs to be treated that way. Yet, because of our dependence on water we have to use it constantly. We cannot simply avoid using it like we could with fossil fuels, rare earth minerals, and the like. Issues of agriculture & industry are tremendously important when thinking about water conservation, but for most of us the best place to affect meaningful change is in our own homes. It’s a task worth doing. Water abuse cannot ever be justifiable, for in the end there is no difference between the fate of fresh, clean water and the fate of people.

Here are five places to start to have the biggest impact:
1. Landscaping
In Austin, water for lawns and landscapes can account for up to 30% of home water use. You can easily halve or even eliminate that water use by changing over to native or indigenous/indigenized grasses, shrubs, and trees. Native plants evolved to tolerate local conditions, and therefore during normal years won’t need many other inputs besides rainwater. Of course during a drought like the one we’re having, you may have to step in with your own watering regimen, but it will still be far less than you would use keeping a yard full of subtropical and coastal grasses and other plants alive. Locally, the Wildflower Center and the Native American Seed Company have wonderful resources for rethinking the way you approach your lawn, and TreeHouse has just about everything you need to get started.

2. Toilets
Most indoor water is literally flushed down the drain. Roughly 27% of home water use is toilet flushing. Luckily, this is an easy problem to fix. All you need is a high performance single flush or dual flush toilet. These bad boys can take the average flush down from 3+ gallons all the way to 1 gallon or less… with a single flush on some models! TreeHouse’s preferred brands are Caroma, Toto, and Niagara Conservation. We think they have done a tremendous job on flush technology to make sure that the toilets not only use less water… but actually work too. Gone are the days when “Low flow = No Go.” These are state of the art, ultra efficient, high performance johns.

Not up for replacing all your toilets? No worries. MJSI and a few other companies make really great conversion kits that will turn almost any toilet into a dual flush toilet for around $30.

3. Shower
Coming in third place at about 17% of home water use is the shower. Same drill as the toilet - just upgrade to a high-performance version. Doing so can save the average family 40 gallons per day, and it’s the kind of project that almost anyone can do. Models from Toto, Evolve, and Waterpik are our favorites. They can operate on 2 gallons per minute or less without compromising water pressure or spray coverage. Toto even has those popular “rain shower” style shower heads that operate on 1.75 gallons per minute. You can’t always have it all, but in this case you can: comfortable, pleasant shower and water conservation.

Are you one of those people who turns the shower on and then multi-tasks while you wait for the hot water to arrive? Admit it. You are. Well, Evolve has a great product for you. It’s called the Lady Bug. It automatically shuts off the shower when the hot water arrives so you don’t waste extra water. You can put it on any showerhead for about $30, and with this product you get a double savings because when you save hot water you also save energy (water heating is the number two user of energy in the home).

4. Faucets
Faucets use about 16% of the average home’s water, and can easily be upgraded to stylish, high performance models that not only save water but can add value to your home. And once again, they do all this without compromising spray pressure or spray coverage (it’s only the volume they reduce). Also, make sure all your faucets have aerators. That can improve the efficiency of your existing faucet by up to 30% if you don’t have one or if yours is busted. Lastly, turn the tap off while you brush your teeth. That could save 3000 gallons per year.

Catch Your Own Rainwater
That’s right. Even in drought-stricken Texas, Mother Nature sends us free water… it falls right out of the sky. It’s a shame to let it all run down the road, ditch, or culvert. Catch some of it for later use on all your outdoor needs. You can water the lawn, water the garden, wash the car, or bathe the dog. Also, this water is better for plants than city water because it is slightly acidic (which is what plants like) as opposed to the very basic water that comes out of your tap. Some of our customers have told us that it was like they started using fertilizer when they started watering with rain water, “Everything just turned bright green.”

The conversion to use for estimating how much water you can harvest with a rain tank is: 0.6 gallons of water per square foot of roof or surface per one inch of rain. So for instance, a 1000 square foot roof would catch 600 gallons of water in a one inch rain. We’ve got tanks ranging from 50 gallons all the way up into the thousands of gallons in a variety of materials: food grade plastic, corrugated metal, and wood.

Water is precious, and it needs to be treated that way. Yet, because of our dependence on water we have to use it constantly. We cannot simply avoid using it like we could with fossil fuels, rare earth minerals, and the like. Issues of agriculture & industry are tremendously important when thinking about water conservation, but for most of us the best place to affect meaningful change is in our own homes. It’s a task worth doing. Water abuse cannot ever be justifiable, for in the end there is no difference between the fate of fresh, clean water and the fate of people.

Plants evolved to tolerate local conditions, and therefore during normal years won’t need many other inputs besides rainwater. Of course during a drought like the one we’re having, you may have to step in with your own watering regimen, but it will still be far less than you would use keeping a yard full of subtropical and coastal grasses and other plants alive. Locally, the Wildflower Center and the Native American Seed Company have wonderful resources for rethinking the way you approach your lawn, and TreeHouse has just about everything you need to get started.

TreeHouse is a home improvement company focused on making homes thoughtful, sustainable and healthy. For Everyone. Read Our Story

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