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Water Conservation Practices for Homeowners

Minimum Measure: Public Education and Outreach on Stormwater Impacts

Subcategory: Education for Homeowners

Photo Description:  Fixing a leaky sink can help conserve water


Water use has soared to all time highs in recent years. In many parts of the United States, limited drinking water supplies have made water conservation practices mandatory. With water consumption rising sharply, the cost of water and sewer service also continue to climb. There is good news, however. Widespread reductions in water consumption could reduce the need for new or expanded water and sewage treatment plants.


According to the Chesapeake Bay Program and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay (1993), only about 4 of the estimated 100 gallons of water each person uses daily is actually necessary. Home water usage can be easily reduced 15 to 20 percent without major discomfort by implementing a water conservation program. Municipalities should establish public education and outreach programs to show homeowners how minor changes in water use habits can translate into smaller water and sewage bills.


Municipalities can help homeowners conserve water through community education efforts. For example, a municipality can establish a Check For Leaks program that teaches homeowners how to spot leaking faucets, toilets, hoses, and pipes. A leak as small as a 1/32-inch can waste approximately 6,000 gallons of water per month. A continuous drip from a faucet wastes about 20 gallons of water per day. Toilet leaks are usually silent, but they waste up to 200 gallons of water each day. Recommend that homeowners check water meters when no water is being used. For example, they can record the number on the meter prior to leaving for a trip and then check the meter again when they return.

Also, the position of the meter's needle can be marked and checked. If the needle moves or the values change, there may be a leak. Municipalities should emphasize to homeowners the benefits of this type of program, benefits such as lower water utility bills and reduced municipal costs for sewers and wastewater treatment. Emphasize the importance of repairing leaks immediately upon detection. A Check For Leaks program can be advertised in a utility insert, community newsletter, or mass mailing campaign.

Municipalities can encourage good water-use habits by informing citizens of daily activities that consume large volumes of water. Some recommended water conservation practices include:

  • Run the dishwasher and laundry machines only with full loads. Use the shortest wash and rinse cycles and the lowest water level setting possible. Avoid the permanent press cycle, which uses an additional 10 to 20 gallons of water.
  • When hand-washing dishes, do not let the water run continuously.
  • Avoid using garbage disposal systems.
  • When buying a new washing machine, choose a suds-saver model.
  • In the bathrooms, place two half-gallon plastic bottles filled with water in the toilet tank to reduce the amount of flush water used.
  • Take shorter showers and use a water-conserving showerhead (less than 2.5 gallons per minute) rather than taking baths, which use 30 to 50 gallons of water.
  • When shaving, brushing teeth, or washing your face, do not let the water run continuously.
  • Use a bucket when washing your car, and wash and rinse sections individually. Use a high-pressure, low-volume hose with a nozzle.
  • Water the lawn only when absolutely necessary. More water is consumed using sprinkler and irrigation systems than if a hand-held hose is used (International Turf Producers Foundation, no date). (Trickle irrigation systems and soaker hoses are 20 percent more efficient than sprinklers.)
  • Water lawns only during the coolest time of day to avoid evaporation of the water.

The following are example programs developed by municipalities:

  • The Maryland Department of the Environment Exit EPA Site has created water conserving tips for business and industry, households, and water utilities. .
  • The City of Albuquerque, New Mexico, has developed incentive programs to encourage the public to conserve water. They offer a rebate of up to $125 per toilet if residents convert to a low flow toilet. Residents may receive a rebate of up to $800 if they convert their land to xeriscapes, which is the practice of using water efficient plants in landscaping. Businesses may receive a rebate for up to $5,000 for using xeriscaping. Residents who convert to a low volume washing machine can receive a $100 rebate per washing machine. The City of Albuquerque Exit EPA Site also offers rebates for using rain barrels, hot water recirculation units, sprinkler timers, and water-efficient dishwashers.

    There are many resources for water conservation information, including the following:

    • The Groundwater Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to informing the public about groundwater. One of their education programs, Groundwater Guardian, attempts to encourage communities to begin groundwater awareness and protection activities. When communities participate in this program, the Groundwater Foundation supports the communities in their efforts and recognizes their achievements. Communities that participate form a Groundwater Guardian team, consisting of citizens, business and/or agricultural representatives, educators, and local government officials. This team develops Result-Oriented Activities (education and awareness, pollution prevention, public policy, conservation, and best management practices) to address the community's groundwater protection concerns. An annual conference allows teams from all around the country to exchange success stories and ideas (See Groundwater Foundation Exit EPA Site) website.
    • The American Water Resources Association (2001) sponsors WaterWiser: The Water Efficiency Clearinghouse Exit EPA Site, which provides links to books, articles, and websites related to water conservation. Topics include conservation tips, drought information, public education, irrigation, landscaping, water reuse and recycling, efficient fixtures and appliances, water savings calculators, water-related organizations and agencies, and links to state and local water conservation websites.
    • The Rocky Mountain Institute (no date) created a resource for household water efficiency that contains guidance for homeowners, utilities, and civic groups. Especially useful for municipalities is the page entitled Civic Action: Promoting Water Efficiency, Protecting Rivers Exit EPA Site, which provides links to information that can help watershed groups and municipalities inform the public about ways they can reduce water use at home.
    • The Chesapeake Bay Program (2000) presents information on water conservation practices at a website called Ways You Can Help the Bay Exit EPA Site.


    For the citizen, the greatest benefit of conserving water is cost savings. Less water used means smaller monthly water bills. If homes with septic systems reduce their water use, they produce less wastewater needing treatment, which reduces strain on the system and improves pollutant removal efficiency. For the municipality, a successful water conservation campaign can help reduce the frequency of sanitary sewer surcharges, decrease the load on wastewater treatment facilities, and lessen the need to expand the sanitary sewer system.


    It is sometimes difficult to change the public's habits. Some people like long showers and strong water pressure. Others might have older appliances and plumbing that are difficult to retrofit with water-saving devices. Still others might be reluctant to change lawn-watering practices because they like the low-effort sprinkler or irrigation systems and don't like watering by hand. However, in many cases, people are unaware of alternative practices and products that require little if any sacrifice to comfort and convenience. Education programs should target people who may be willing to change their habits it they were aware of alternatives.


    Following these water conservation measures can reduce home water use by 15 to 20 percent (Chesapeake Bay Program, 1993). The cumulative effects of using water conservation practices can also significantly reduce the burden on water storage, purification, distribution, and treatment facilities.


    Water conservation is not only "environmentally friendly," but very economical. Reducing water use can substantially lower monthly sewer, energy, and water bills. Heating water requires energy. Less hot water requires less energy. Consequently, using less hot water results in lower gas and electric bills.


    American Water Works Association. 2001. WaterWiser: The Water Efficiency Clearinghouse. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 8, 2005.

    Chesapeake Bay Program. 2000. Ways You Can Help the Bay. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 8, 2005.

    Chesapeake Bay Program and Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. 1993. Baybook: A Guide to Reducing Water Pollution at Home. Chesapeake Bay Program, Annapolis, MD, and Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Baltimore, MD.

    The City of Albuquerque. 2005. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 8, 2005.

    The Groundwater Foundation. 2003. The Groundwater Guardian Program. []. Accessed September 8, 2005.

    International Turf Producers Foundation. No date. Water Right--Conserving our Water, Preserving Our Environment. International Turf Producers Association, Rolling Meadows, IL. [ Exit EPA Site].

    Iowa City/Coralville Area Online Resource. 1995. Drop by Drop, A How To Guide: Starting a Water Conservation Program. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 8, 2005.

    Louisiana USA. 1997. Leaky Faucet. []. Accessed September 8, 2005.

    Maryland Department of the Environment. 2005. [Water Conservation Tips Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 8, 2005.

    Rocky Mountain Institute. No date. Household Water Efficiency. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 8, 2005.

    USEPA. 1999. Water Drop Patch Program. EPA 840/B-99/001. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water, Washington, DC.


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Last updated on February 19, 2014