A study recently published by researchers at the University of Indiana points out that Americans seem to have a “slippery grasp” of the amount of water consumed for and by different activities. In addition, they are often confused as to ways to conserve water.
And even more revealing, the study also highlights one of the concerns that complicates all water-reduction issues in the United States: the confusion between what it means to conserve water and what it means to use it more efficiently.
For instance, the study reports that 43 percent of the 1,020 people surveyed cited “taking shorter showers” as one of the key ways they can or do try to save water. While taking shorter showers can save water—we use about seven gallons of water per minute when showering—the amount saved per shower varies, and, over time, some people may think they are still taking shorter showers when in reality they are not.
Taking shorter showers is a form of water conservation – not water efficiency – with only marginal effectiveness. While the “heat is on,” so to speak, and there are concerns about water consumption and people are being encouraged to use less water, they try to remember to shower faster to consume less. But as soon as the pressure is off, shower durations increase. We see this pattern over and over again whenever there is a drought, and then after a major rainfall event or two, water restrictions are lifted.
A more effective strategy would be to use water-reducing technologies that reduce the amount of water released in a shower. Instead of seven gallons per minute, these technologies can reduce consumption by half or more, so even if that “shorter” shower is longer than we realize, we are still reducing consumption considerably and doing so for the long term, an example of using water more efficiently.
“People may be [more] focused on curtailment or cutting back than efficiency because of the upfront costs involved,” says Shahzeen Attari, Assistant Professor at Indiana University Bloomington’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs. This comment points out another key issue when it comes to water efficiency in the United States.
Many Americans in both residential and commercial settings are unaware of the cost savings that can result from using water more efficiently. These savings are passed on to the consumer not only in the form of lower water/sewer bills but also in the reduced energy it takes to deliver and remove the water. Reducing the amount of water traveling through pipelines can reduce energy costs and increase savings, which can be passed on to all consumers in one form or another.