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Conserving water during drought

In light of the recent burn bans and concern about the drought we are experiencing, let’s talk about an invaluable natural resource — water.

When you turn on the faucet and water rushes out, it may seem like water is an unending resource. However, water on Earth is limited, especially the amount of fresh water that can be used by humans. Of the total amount of water on Earth, 97% is in the oceans and is undrinkable without desalination. The remaining 3% of water is in the form of fresh water.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, “(Of) the total freshwater, over 68% is locked up in ice and glaciers. Another 30% of freshwater is in the ground. Fresh surface-water sources, such as rivers and lakes, only constitute … about 1/150th of 1% of total water. Yet, rivers and lakes are the sources of most of the water people use every day.”

Surface water, such as lakes or reservoirs, that supply our households take time to recover from overuse. When it comes to groundwater, it can take up to hundreds of years for rainwater and snowmelt to travel through the pores in soil and rock before recharging the groundwater aquifers that supply our wells.

Because water supplies can be negatively affected by overuse as well as pollution, it is crucial to protect our water, especially as the world’s population grows and the need for water increases.

In your landscape, be water-friendly. Group plants according to their water needs — low, medium or high moisture — to avoid overwatering plants with lower moisture requirements. Use plants that are native to Virginia, as they require less water to thrive and have the added bonus of attracting pollinators such as butterflies. Visit the Virginia Native Plant Society website for a list of native plants, or contact the Piedmont Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) for resources. Water your garden early in the morning or late in evening to minimize evaporation by the hot afternoon sun, and check the soil moisture before watering — damp or moist soil does not need to be watered. Consider drip irrigation systems or soaker hoses, which are more efficient as they target plants’ roots directly instead of landing on leaves and evaporating, as in the case of traditional sprinkler irrigation or watering cans. Also, adding compost to soil increases its ability to hold water, and spreading mulch prevents water loss through evaporation. Use a rain barrel to collect water from your gutters for use in your landscape.

There are also ways to reduce outdoor water usage other than in your landscape. If you have a pool, using a pool cover when the pool is not in use cuts down on evaporation and helps to maintain the desired water level. When cleaning porches or sidewalks, use a broom rather than a water hose.

Regarding indoor water use, the average person uses 100 gallons of water each day, not including outdoor use such as watering gardens or washing cars. When you take into account the approximately 52,000 people living in Piedmont SWCD’s service area — Amelia, Nottoway and Prince Edward counties — that totals an average of 5.2 million gallons of indoor residential water use per day.

To reduce your household water usage, always wash a full load of clothes instead of a smaller load to maximize efficiency. If you’re buying new appliances, shower heads or faucets, consider purchasing water-saving models, which use 2-3 times less water than conventional models. Also, check for leaky faucets or toilets that run when not in use. When brushing your teeth or shaving, turn off the faucet to prevent wasting water. While you are waiting for the water to warm up before washing dishes or taking a shower, place a container under the faucet, and use that water in your garden or store it in the refrigerator as drinking water.

To calculate your household water usage, visit the Water Footprint Calculator website at www.watercalculator.org.

EMILY GIBBS is the residential conservation and marketing coordinator at Piedmont Soil & Water Conservation. You can contact her at (434) 392- 3782 ext. 131 or visit www.piedmontswcd.org.