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Saving those dollars going down the drain

None of us care to pay more for utility bills, and although water still might be relatively inexpensive to an average homeowner, we all can take measures to try and lessen our water use for the good of our pocket book, environment and future generations.

Strides have been made by all of the cities in Ellis County and the area. For instance, water conservation measures have saved the city of Hays approximately 298,485,500 gallons of water annually or $28.4 million. These savings have extended the estimated life expectancy of Hays' water resources 20 to 50 years.

Conserving water in the bathroom is a good start to water conservation. Did you know older toilets use as much as 20 gallons of water per person per day? For example, people often do not realize the toilet accounts for the largest single use (28 percent) of water in the home. Replacing an old toilet with a newer one can save an average household an estimated 8,000 to 22,000 gallons of water in a single year, this water and energy savings ultimately will pay for the new toilet.

Here are some tips on ways to conserve and prevent high water bills:

* Install an ultra-low-flow toilet. It uses just 1.6 gallons per flush, compared to older toilets that use 3.5 to 7 gallons per flush. Toilets labeled "WaterSense" can use 50 percent to 80 percent less water.

* Approximately 20 percent of toilets leak. Check for leaks by placing a few drops of food coloring in the tank. If the dye shows up in the bowl after 15 minutes, your toilet has a leak. Fix it and save up to 600 gallons of water per month.

* Replace the flapper for an inexpensive solution to toilet leaks.

* Place one or two 1-quart bottles filled with water in the tank of an older toilet. It could save you as much as 1,000 gallons of water per person, per year.

* Repair showers and faucet leaks in your sink or bathtub faucets by replacing the rubber O-ring or washer inside the valve.

* Take a quick shower rather than a bath and save approximately 20 gallons of water each time.

* Bathing ranks third highest for indoor water use and second highest for home energy use.

Some additional household water saving tips:

* Test your shower flow. A water-efficient showerhead can save 15 gallons of water during a 10-minute shower -- 1,800 gallons a month for a family of four. If your shower fills a 1-gallon bucket in less than 20 seconds, consider replacing it with a low-flow shower head (less than 2.5 gallons/minute). (Check with your city to see if they offer rebate programs such as replacement to low-flow shower heads, faucet aerators and high-efficiency washing machines). The city of Hays website is www.haysusa.com.

* Turn off the water when shaving or brushing your teeth. It will save an average of 5 gallons per person, per day.

* Run clothes washers and dishwashers only when they are full; save up to 1,000 gallons a month. Consider replacing your older washing machine or dishwasher with an Energy Star one. If you have a dishwasher made before 1994, you're paying an extra $40 a year on utility bills and using approximately 10 more gallons of water per cycle. A high efficiency washing machine uses nearly half as much water and less energy as a conventional one.

* Check for leaks in your pipes by turning all water sources off and reading your water meter. Wait a half-hour or so and take another reading from the meter. If the dial has moved, you have a leak.

* Listen for dripping faucets and toilets that flush automatically. Fixing a leak can save up to 500 gallons of water per month.

How much water do I use?

Check out your personal daily water-use volume with an interactive questionnaire online at ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/sq3.htm.

For further water saving tips, contact your local K-State Research & Extension County Office or Stacie Minson, Big Creek Middle Smoky Hill Watershed Specialist, at (785) 814-7100.

Stacy Campbell is Ellis County agricultural agent with Kansas State Research and Extension.