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Extension > Environment > Water Resources > Property owners > Shoreland maintenance > Conserving water

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Conserving water

Why is conserving water important?

Reducing our use of water will decrease water pollution, increase energy savings, and create more efficient use of our water resources. Too much water in an on-site sewage treatment system can flush untreated material through before organisms have a chance to break it down. If untreated material gets to the drainfield, the material can plug up the soil within the drainfield and shorten the life of the septic system. Sending too much water down the drain can also cause systems to "blow out," allowing untreated material to flow out onto the ground. If this occurs, the system needs to be dug up and repaired. Failing septic systems can:

Conserving water in rural areas will increase the life of existing septic systems. Conserving water within a municipal water system will reduce household expenses, increase treatment plant efficiency, and reduce the amount of electricity and chemicals needed to treat wastewater. In both situations, conserving water protects water quality through improved wastewater treatment.

How much water do we use?

pie-chart

A typical household of four uses 260 gallons of water each day. Much of this water is used in the bathroom. Toilets use 40% of the total, showers/baths and faucets use 35%. By contrast, 15% is used in the kitchen, and 10% for washing clothes.

Table 1: Typical water use (in gallons). Calculate how much your family typically uses in one week.

Action Typical use Conservative use Ultra-cons. use ? Your use ?
Toilet-flushing 6 (old standard) 1.5-3 (low-flow) Composting toilet
Tub bath 30 (1/2 filled) 15 (1/4 filled) Sponge bath
Shower 10 min: 50 (5 gal/min)
3 min: 15 (5 gal/min)
25 (2.5 gal/min)
25 (2.5 gal/min)
Camper style (3 gal)
Laundry - full load Top loading: 50-60 (older models)
Front loading: 33 (older models)

(Suds-saver reuses most of the "wash fill" for the 2nd load)
40 (newer models) 17-28 (newer models) Laundromat
Dishwashing Machine: 12-15 (old-reg cycle)

(Pre-rinsing before loading adds 3-5 gal)

Hand: 16 (faucet rinse)

6-9 (new-reg cycle)

6 (basin rinse)
Teeth-brushing 2 (faucet running) 1/8 (wet brush, brief rinse)
Hand-washing 2 (faucet running) 1 (basin; brief rinse)
Shaving 3-5 (faucet running) 1 (basin; brief rinse)

Use less water by using common sense and installing low-flow products

Bathroom

toilet

the toilet

To significantly reduce water use, replace your old 5 gallon per flush toilet with a new 1.5 or 1.6 gallon per flush toilet. This is the most effective way to decrease the amount of water used in the bathroom.

As an alternative to installing a new toilet, retrofit your old one with a water-saving device. Displacing volume in the tank means that less water is used for each flush. A clean, sealed plastic container filled with sand will work.

  • Don't use a brick; pieces of decaying brick can get under the rubber flapper and cause leaks.

  • Leaky toilets can waste a lot of water. Replace the rubber flapper in the tank every two to three years. If black coloring comes off on your hand when you touch the flapper, it's time to replace it!

  • Be careful that your displacement device still allows a complete flush. With old tanks, less volume may mean less than a total flush.

  • Flushing twice doesn't save water!

Bathroom

shower-head

the tub/shower

To save water while showering, install a low-flow showerhead. New designs range from 1.5 to 2.5 gallons per minute and still provide a powerful stream of water. Some models allow you to temporarily turn off the water without changing the water temperature.

To install a new showerhead, simply unscrew the old one and screw on the new one using Teflon tape to seal the threads. Be careful not to unscrew plumbing fixtures inside the wall!

Other lifestyle choices will help save water while bathing:

  • Take short showers instead of baths.

  • Take shorter showers or shower less often.

  • Don't run the water full force when showering.

  • Turn the shower off while soaping or shaving.

  • Keep the water shallow when using the tub.

Baths can sometimes actually save water compared with long showers. A showerhead that delivers 5 gallons per minute means that a shower longer than 8 minutes uses more water than a typical full bathtub (40 gallons).

Kitchen

sink

Saving water in the kitchen is easy with a low-flow faucet aerator and a few new habits. When selecting a low-flow faucet, keep in mind that flows less than 2.5 gallons per minute are inconvenient at a kitchen sink when you are trying to fill pots or wash dishes. A dual flow faucet is the best choice for kitchens.

Other BMPs can save water in the kitchen:

  • Repair leaky faucets.

  • Wash only FULL loads in the dishwasher and select a low-water-use model.

  • Hand-wash dishes in a basin instead of under running water.

  • Store a container of water in the refrigerator to avoid running water each time you want a cold drink.

Utility Room-laundry

washing-machine

Front-loading washing machines use 40% less water than top loaders. However, front loaders are not common; they may be more expensive than top loaders and may be difficult to find.

Another option is to purchase a top loader with a suds-saver. Suds-savers reuse most of the sudsy wash water for a second load. By beginning with the cleanest clothes and reusing wash water for at least one load, suds-savers can cut water use by 30-50%.

Even when using a standard top-loading machine, there are habits that will save water:

  • Wash only FULL loads.

  • When smaller loads are necessary, use partial load settings.

Water treatment devices

water-treatment

If your water softener backflush line is connected to the septic system, recharge your softener as infrequently as possible to reduce water use and avoid overloading the septic system. If you want automatic recharge on your conditioner, select a model that recharges after a certain amount of water passes through rather than one that recharges at regular time intervals. That way if you're away or your water usage drops, the frequency of recharge will also drop.

If you have a point-of-use water treatment device, be sure it has a shut-off valve so the system doesn't run continuously when the reservoir is already full. Reverse osmosis systems sometimes reject 8 gallons for every 1 gallon filtered. This rejected water can put too much water into your septic system and chemically destroy the bacterial action.

Saving water saves energy and money

By conserving water, you will save money. Using a low-flow showerhead will annually save you an estimated $10 per person in water heating savings alone. Savings can be realized from water and wastewater service fees, electric city bills, and longevity of your pumps and switches. The largest savings in the rural setting is your septic system performance and longevity.

Regulations that apply

The 1992 Federal Energy Policy Act established standards for water-efficient plumbing fixtures including toilets, urinals, showerheads, and faucets manufactured after January 1994. This includes installing 1.5 or 1.6 gallon flush toilets, low-flow showerheads, and other water saving devices in new constructions and remodeling projects.

Minnesota law requires municipalities with public water supplies serving more than 1,000 people to develop conservation plans. By January 1, 1996, municipalities must have developed a water emergency and conservation plan. Before requesting approvals to construct new wells or increase their annual appropriation, communities must implement demand reduction measures designed to decrease water use.

For more information

Shoreland Best Management Practices

Revised 2016

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