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Water wisdom: How to conserve water every day

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By Cynthia Ramnarace

If there is a sound that immediately drives me insane, it's that of a running tap. And because you have to tell kids the same thing 5,000 times before they get it -- "You don't need the water on when you brush your teeth!" -- I hear a lot of water waste as I go through my day.

It drives me nuts not only because it's money down the drain, but also because water is such a precious resource. I was fortunate enough to see this firsthand during a trip to Kenya several years ago. When you're living in a drought-prone region and the only water you have comes from collected rain water, conservation is how you survive.

I returned from Africa a water-use zealot, but that was a long time ago. My commitment to the cause has waned over the years. I realized telling my kids not to waste water wasn't enough: I had to lead by example. So I did some research and came up with some easy water-saving solutions that any parent can easily use in their own homes.

In the Kitchen

  • When you wash dishes by hand, collect the dirty water in a plastic container. Then use it to water your houseplants. "Food products in the water enrich the soil and nourish plants," says landscape architect Shelley Sparks. "They have never looked better."
  • Switch to a self-foaming dish soap, which will allow you to wash more dishes with less water.
  • Use water left in drinking glasses to give your houseplants a drink. Either pour them directly from the cup into the plant, or put watering cans in convenient places so you can fill them with each unfinished cup. "Throwing away water that remains in a drinking glass is really a waste, especially when it can be used to water houseplants or plants in the garden," says Kimberly Button, a green-living consultant.

In the Bathroom

  • Check your toilet for leaks by placing a drop of food coloring in the tank. If after 15 minutes your toilet bowl water takes on a new hue, you can be pretty sure you have a leak, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Most water loss can be easily stopped by replacing a worn-out toilet flapper (the rubber valve that flops up and down each time you flush).
  • Filling the bathtub uses about 70 gallons of water! Encourage everyone in your family, kids included, to take showers. You'll save 45 to 60 gallons per wash -- not to mention serious money.
  • When it's time to get a new toilet, upgrade to a dual-flush version, which lets you choose a light flush or a heavier flush. The light-usage option uses less than a gallon of water with each use. For times when the toilet needs to work a bit harder, the heavier 1.6-gallon flush will do the trick.
  • Install low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators, which add air to the stream, automatically using less water without sacrificing a bit of performance. A family of four that makes these changes will save about 4,500 gallons of water per year, according to the EPA.

In the Garden

  • "Install a rain barrel on your downspout to collect water," suggests Christian Rogers, a landscape architect with Blackmon Rogers Architects. You can easily use the rainwater, instead of your garden hose, to water your plants.
  • Kids love to water plants! But remind them that their green buddies need just a sip, not a deluge.
  • If you're thinking of adding new plants to your landscape, consider ones that don't need much water to thrive. Sparks recommends planting ivy geraniums, bottle brush, lavender, yarrow and wild lilac.

Cynthia Ramnarace is a freelance writer in Queens, N.Y. She is a regular contributor to iVillage.com and AARP Bulletin. Her work also appears frequently in American Baby and Kiwi magazines.

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