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Regional Interests

12 Simple Ways to Conserve Water at Home During a California Drought

It’s official: The entire Bay Area is once again in a drought.

In April, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a California drought emergency for certain regions, which has since been expanded to encompass parts of the Bay Area. And over the last couple of weeks, our region has jumped from moderate to extreme drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Some water districts around the Bay Area are already imposing water conservation measures on residents, and there are several lasting measures homeowners can take to combat water wastage, from installing low-flow toilets and shower heads to building a rainwater collecting system. But some of the most effective ways to save water don’t require any home alterations — and that’s especially handy if you’re renting.

Read on for some of the simplest ways to tweak your behavior at home to save on water.

Keep Drinking Water in the Fridge, So You Don’t Have to Run the Tap While It Cools

You don’t need a fancy water pitcher to make storing water in the fridge worthwhile. Keeping drinking water there will prevent you from running the tap while you wait for cold water to reach the faucet.

If you work out at home, having cold water on hand while you exercise is actually better for rehydrating. That’s because your body absorbs cold liquids faster than room temperature liquids during exercise.

Stop Rinsing Dishes Before You Place Them in the Dishwasher

Scrape food scraps into a compost bin instead of rinsing them down the drain. Garbage disposals require a lot of water to work properly (and composting is pretty great.) Modern dishwashers have gotten good at cleaning stuck-on food without using as much water as hand-washing. By rinsing beforehand, you’re not only wasting water, but also time. If food is really encrusted onto your dishes, try soaking them instead.

Only Wash Full Loads of Laundry

Always wait until a load is full before doing laundry. If you must do a smaller load, be sure to adjust the water settings on your washer.

By the same token, be sure your dishwasher is completely full before running it.

…And Use the Cold Setting

Washing your laundry on cold can help conserve water and energy. What’s more, washing dark clothes in cold water can help them keep their color.

Take Shorter Showers, Skip Baths Entirely

If you’re someone who likes to take long hot showers, you might want to get your phone’s timer involved, to remind you to keep your shower to five minutes or less.

And sorry, bath fans: a full bathtub can require up to 70 gallons of water, so showers that last less than 5 minutes will use much less water than one bath (though that can vary by shower head.)

Buy Drought-Tolerant Plants for Your Home

Choosing your outdoor plants carefully for the amount of water they need (or rather, don’t need) is an excellent way to maintain a colorful outdoor space without requiring constant watering.

Sunset Magazine has a list of drought-tolerant plants to get you started, from cacti to blooming evergreens.

Take Your Car to the Automatic Car Wash Instead of Washing at Home

Many automatic car washes recycle their water, so taking your vehicle to one of these businesses — rather than washing your car at home in the street or on your driveway — is a more environmentally friendly option for keeping your car clean. (Unfortunately, it costs more money though.)

Dropped Ice on the Floor? Give It To Your Plants

No drop of water is too small to be saved. So if you fumble the ice tray, instead of tossing the ice cubes you dropped into the sink, consider placing them in the soil of a plant instead.

FYI, you can also use ice to water plants on a regular basis. It allows plants to absorb the water slowly, and generally uses less water than traditional watering.

Re-Use Water for Your Plants Wherever You Can

Water for your plants can add up, so collecting used water for watering plants — instead of letting it run straight down the drain — is an easy way to save a few gallons of water each week. Opportunities to reuse water include:

Cooled-down water from cooking pasta… …or from steaming or boiling vegetables Your pet’s water bowl when you’re refreshing it

If you’re running the faucet to get the water hot, collect the water as it runs and save it for re-use. You might consider keeping a gallon jug and a funnel under your sink, for conserving used water.

Serve Meals Straight From the Pot, Not From a Dish

By cutting down on the number of dishes you use during cooking, you can make a big impact on how often the dishwasher is needed. (Or how much water you’ll be using to do the dishes by hand.)

Fix Leaks Around the House

Water lost to leaks from faucets and shower heads can add up. According to Arizona’s Water: Use It Wisely, one drip every second adds up to five gallons of water lost every day. In this spirit, make sure you turn taps tightly when you’re done running water, to prevent drips.

If you’re renting and you’re unable to fix a leak yourself, inform your landlord or property manager of the need to fix it straightaway.

Switch From a Hose to a Broom for Cleaning Your Patio

…and try sweeping or vacuuming hard floors instead of mopping with water.

A version of this post was originally published in 2015.

Copyright 2021 KQED