Wasted water isn't just money down the drain, its a precious resource. Because water is there at the turn of a tap (a.k.a faucet), we tend to use more than we really need.

Around 80% of total water used each year is used inside the house, with the remaining 20% being used outside, particularly on the garden - it is sprinkled, squirted, dripped, gushed and often wasted.

Saving water is easy and it can save you money. All it takes is a little thought. By following the suggestions below, it is estimated that you could reduce consumption by up to 45%.

In the house

Use your automatic washing machine or dishwasher for full loads only
Every time you run your washing machine, you use about 120 litres of water. A dishwasher can use 20 to 60 litres of water per wash. So make each wash count, by making sure they are full loads.

Check for leaks
A leaking toilet may be silently wasting untold amounts of precious water - to check for leaks, put a little food colouring in your toilet tank.

If, without flushing, the colour begins to appear in the bowl, the cistern should be replaced immediately.

Install water saving shower heads or flow restrictors
Many shower heads put out 20 litres of water a minute, while 10 litres is actually enough for a refreshing, cleansing shower. Your local hardware or plumbing supply store stocks inexpensive, water saving shower heads that you can install yourself.

Or take shorter showers - long, hot showers waste 10 to 20 litres of water every unnecessary minute. Limit your showers to the time it takes you to soap up, wash down and rinse off.

Install or convert your toilet to dual flush
Most toilets use 12 litres of water per flush. Install a dual flush toilet and use the full flush button only when needed. Save over 60 litres a day.

Take baths in moderation
If you want to soak, a bath in a partially filled tub uses less water than long showers.

In the garden

Water the roots not the leaves
Contrary to popular belief, watering the leaves of trees and shrubs is not beneficial. It just increases water loss through evaporation. In fact, in some circumstances water on leaves on hot, sunny days can damage them.

Soak - don't spray
While giving the garden a quick drink every night may be good therapy for you, it does little for the plants. It makes them shallow rooted and dependant on the meagre amount of water you provide.

Most of this water is wasted through evaporation. Water your plants every fourth day in summer, but water for longer periods. This makes the plants hardier and encourages the roots to go deeper into the soil to seek out moisture. Also, don't water during the middle of hot, sunny days.

Use a good mulch
Mulches can prevent up to 73% evaporation loss and they are one of the cheapest ways to make the most of water in the garden. The best mulch is a well rotted compost which will improve the soil structure. Place the mulch away from the trunks of trees to prevent collar rot occuring.

Group plants
By grouping the plants in the garden into high or low water users, you can design a watering pattern that is better for your plants and will prevent waste on the plants that don't need it.

Remove weeds
Weeds compete for water and nutrients in the garden. Once removed, a good mulch will help stop weeds from taking root.

Use a timer with your sprinkler
A forgotten sprinkler can waste over 1,000 litres per hour - a timer will allow you to place as much water as is needed without wastage.

Install a drip system
This is probably the most efficient method of watering your plants. It places the water right where it is needed and at a rate that the soil can absorb. It is also cheap and easy to install.

If you want a green lawn on a budget
Toughen the lawn with only two waterings a week, give it a feed (but don't over-fertalise), aerate the soil and do not mow to less than two centimetres.

Sow drought tolerant lawn seed
A lawn can use more water per square metre than any other area in your garden. So it pays to consider sowing more drought tolerant lawn seed mixtures such as: Kikuyu, Couch Grass, Native Grasses, Fescues, Kentucky Bluegrass and Perennial Ryegrass.

Don't water the paths
Design the sprinkler system to water the garden, not the concrete. If you want clean paths, use a broom.

Washing the car

Follow these simple steps and you will have a gleaming car using minimum water and effort, and your lawn will benefit at the same time.

  • park the car on the lawn
  • give the car a quick spray with the hose to loosen dirt and grit
  • turn off the hose and wipe away the dirt a section at a time, with a sponge soaked in soapy water from a bucket
  • each time a section has been completed, use a brief spray with the hose and rinse away the loosened dirt and soap
  • wipe the car dry with a clean, soft chamois

A few more things, that I'm considering due to the drought in the Northeast this year:

Even though we're in mandatory water restrictions now, I imagine keeping at least some of these habits even after the restrictions are lifted. Water purification and distribution actually takes a great deal of energy, so reducing the amount of it you use is saving energy as well.

Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink
(from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner)

In this season of terrible drought, we must be conscious of every drop of water we use.

I have been a water conservationist for many years. When my daughter, Daisy, was a little girl, I always made it a point to siphon off her nightly bath water out into the garden. I used the old green garden hose to make the siphon. It worked quite well and in those long ago years, not one drop of bath water ever went down the drain; and even though we live on decomposed granite, our garden always looked beautiful and healthy with abundant, colourful blooms.

As Daisy grew older, and time seemed to grow shorter, we began to substitute daily showers for our usual warm bubble baths. One day I noticed the amount of water being wasted, traveling from the hot water heater which is on the fourth or top floor of a rambling old 1920s four story house, down to the shower on the third floor, and then flowing down the drain whilst I waited for it to warm up enough to step naked under its spray.

Just after the Northridge Earthquake back in 1994, without much thought for ecology, the hot water heater was relocated by my contractor to the upper level of the property on the side of the house behind the dining room to make room for a state of the art wine cellar. (Another way to conserve water!) At the same time, I redesigned the third floor shower, converting a tiny 3' x 3' stall into a luxurious 5' x 5' steam shower, with beautiful tile murals and painted mud flaps to match. On chilly mornings, it seemed to take forever for the water to get hot enough for a comfortable shower as I ruefully watched it flow down the drain.

A few years ago, I discovered if I saved the big plastic buckets left over from the laundry soap we used to buy before I was introduced to a more ecologically friendly detergent and kept one or two in the shower, I could put the hand-held shower head into the bucket, turn on the hot water faucet and let the water collect in this bucket until it was warm enough for my morning shower. I could then use the cold water I had conserved, to refresh the window boxes on the front porch or use the water to flush the toilets. Does anyone realise how much water goes down the drain with every flush? If you don't have a garden, use the saved shower water and dishwater for flushing toilets.

When you wash your hands wet them first, then turn the water off while you lather, then turn it on again to rinse. Do not let it run the whole time. The same goes for brushing your teeth. Fill a tumbler with water and use that to rinse as you are brushing. It is a total waste to allow the water to run the entire time you are brushing.

I like to wash dishes by hand. It is something I have done since childhood. I have NEVER owned an actual dishwasher. I enjoy the feeling of my hands thrust deep into the warm soapy water as I wash and rinse each plate, glass and piece of silverware. Years ago, I learned from my father the gypsy way to wash and rinse. That is to take a small bowl of soapy water and a sponge to soap each dish then rinse in a pan of clean hot water. Another tip: If you refrain from stacking dirty dishes when clearing the table, you will use less water washing them. (The bottoms aren't dirty)

In 2007, I discovered if I kept, in the kitchen sink, a small length of rubber hose from an un-repairable garden hose and a bucket close by outside the service porch door, I could bring the bucket into the kitchen, set it on the floor next to the sink, siphon my dishwater into the bucket and then either use it to water the herbs and lettuces in my kitchen garden or, if it was too dirty and soapy, I could use it to “wash down” the pavement and stairs outside the upper level. Sometimes it is nice after sweeping to wash the pavements, but I can't see wasting the water from the tap.

Another good use for the water that is too greasy or dirty to put into the garden or walkways, is to get a siphon going with that small length of hose and insert one end in the full side of the sink and the other in the garbage disposal side. Place a lemon in the disposal, turn it on, and let the dirty water flow into the disposal. The lemon will give the kitchen a fresh scent and you will not have wasted any water running the disposal.

When you are dining out in a restaurant and don't intend to drink the water the busboy brings, let them know ahead of time that you don't want water. I can't even estimate how much of our precious water is wasted every day, by a restaurant’s habit of bringing water to every table whether requested or not.

When I first moved to “Treetops” my motto was, “ If you can't eat it, don't bother to water it!” Even though I composted and added lots of organic soil and nutrients to the garden, because of the decomposed granite, my gardens required a lot of water. The water bills were sky high and not conducive to growing one’s own food. I also have learned to make good use of an old galvanized watering can. I grow lots of flowers in pots and when I water with the hose, I notice water is lost as I drag the hose around or move the nozzle from pot to pot. When I water with the watering can not one drop is wasted. Place saucers under the small pots and you can re-water other plants with the run-off.

I set out “rain barrels” throughout the year hoping to catch enough water to supplement my other methods. A few drops of bleach keeps the mosquito larvae under control. The water is a free gift from Mother Nature. An old Sparklett’s or Arrowhead water bottle with a wide mouthed funnel is a good way for apartment dwellers to capture rain water out on the balcony.

Many local water companies will be giving discounts to customers who show less water consumption than last year. This is a good way to reduce the amounts you will be using this summer.

Now that I am recycling every drop of water that flows through the pipes inside the house, I have plump juicy tomatoes, gorgeous scented roses, aromatic herbs, tender lettuces and other delectable vegetables almost year round at no extra cost.

Since I began this recycling project my bills for a two-month cycle have been running around $3.48.

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