Water and you: Part 4 of 5
By Don Ireland
“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.” – W.H. Auden, poet (1957)
Most fifth graders know that about 71 percent of the Earth is covered by water and up to 60 percent of the human body also is water. What many people don’t realize if that only about 2.5 percent of the planet’s water is freshwater, suitable for drinking. The rest is ocean-based, mostly saltwater.
While a person can live for more than a week without food, they typically can’t last for more than three days without water. Throughout most of America, getting drinkable water is as simple as turning on a faucet – quite a difference from other countries, where people walk for miles daily to secure water that may contain bacteria and other pathogens because it wasn’t treated.
In Colorado with its higher elevations, people have higher daily water requirements than those living closer to sea level. It’s common to see people walking around this region with their personal water bottle or a store-purchased bottle of water. Many hotels, restaurants and casinos provide complimentary plastic bottles of water to their patrons. Environmentalists, on the other hand, complain that discarded water bottles continue to pollute the nation’s landscape and waterways.
A 2019 investigation by Consumer Reports reported Americans spent $31 billion on bottled water the previous year. Many people drink bottled water because they believe it is safer. However, the investigation reported that nearly 64 percent of bottled water sold in the U.S is merely filtered tap water. Consumer Reports noted that while bottled water sales totaled $31 billion, it would take less money – $24 billion – to fix and maintain the U.S. public water supply during the next 20 years.
(Noteworthy comparison: Many stores charge about $2 for a 20-ounce bottle of water. The typical Denver Water household pays $2.74 for 1,000 gallons during the winter months.)
Rising water bills have motivated many Americans to reconsider their water-use habits to cut costs and become more environmentally-conscious. Denver Water said water use by a typical household has fallen from 82 gallons a day in 2015 to about 50 gallons daily in 2019.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Water Research Association reported how an average person uses water daily in the state, plus how they could reduce their consumption:
- 24% – Toilets. Old toilets may use up to 5 gallons per flush while new, High-Efficiency Toilets (HETs) use 1.28 gallons or less per flush, depending on the model. Using less water also can help people reduce their municipal sewage bills.
- 20% – Faucets. Water in a sink can be reduced by using a water-saving aerator.
- 20% – Showers. Limiting time in the shower by a couple of minutes daily and using a lower-flow shower head reduces water consumption. Up to 700 gallons of water can be saved monthly by reducing showering by one or two minutes.
- 16% – Clothes washers. A front-loading, high-efficiency washing machine typically uses about one-third the water of an older, top-loading machine. Most washing machines bearing the EPA’s Water-Sense label use between 13 and 25 gallons per load while older washers can use up to 40 gallons at a time.
- 13% – Leaks. An unrepaired dripping faucet can waste thousands of gallons a month. A toilet with a faulty flapper can lose even more.
- 3% – Baths.
- 2% – Dishwashers. Newer, high-tech models are designed to clean dishes using less water.
- 2% – Other.
Practical tips for saving water every day include: filling a glass of water and using it to shave or brush your teeth; operating the washing machine or dishwasher only when it is filled and not running the faucet for a couple of minutes prior to using it, hoping the water will get warmer or cooler. (Generally, running that water won’t make a big difference on its temperature.)
In 2016, Colorado legislators approved a law that enables homeowners to have two rain barrels on their property. Up to 110 gallons can be collected at a time from gutter downspouts. They can be used to water trees, grass, flowers and shrubs, but not edibles. Information on rain barrels can be downloaded from the Gilpin County Extension service website: https://gilpin.extension.colostate.edu/
Many Colorado water providers and organizations have launched campaigns to educate residents about water and how to use it more efficiently. They offer programs to schools, hoping to help teach children the importance of using water wisely. Colorado WaterWise promotes resources and education to hundreds of water suppliers, water utilities, and professionals involved in water-related equipment and services around the state. Its longtime campaign slogan is “Colorado Water: Live Like You Love It!”
The Colorado Water Conservation Board and the One World One Water Center at Metropolitan State University created an 11-minute video, “Doing More with Less: The Challenge and Opportunity of Water Efficiency.” It can be accessed free on YouTube and includes lots of beautiful Colorado scenery.
In the final installment of this series, we’ll explore the subject of how Gilpin County, Black Hawk and Central City residents get their water.
About the author
Don Ireland has appeared in two Eco documentaries involving water conservation. He has spoken to hundreds across the state on the subjects of saving water and appropriate planting in Colorado. In addition to contributing stories and drone photos to the Weekly Register-Call, he writes stories for Colorado WaterWise Magazine.