Tips: Save water, reduce load on treatment facilities after flooding

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is recommending that residents conserve water to reduce the load on local wastewater treatment plants, many of which may be either partially or fully inoperable due to damage sustained by recent flooding in the eastern and central portions of Pennsylvania.

These tips for residents, businesses and other institutions will to reduce the load on facilities, and in the process help to save money in reduced water and energy bills.

  • If consumers have more than one toilet, use one for urination and use it at least twice before flushing (this can save five to seven gallons per flush). However, consumers should keep toilet lids shut and keep children and pets away from toilets that have not been flushed.
  • Avoid unnecessary flushing. Dispose facial tissues and other similar waste in the trash rather than the toilet.
  • Place a plastic jug of water or commercial "dam" in older toilet tanks to cut down on the amount of water needed for each flush (this can save over 1,000 gallons per year).
  • Check for toilet tank leaks by adding food coloring to the tank. If the toilet is leaking, color will appear in the toilet bowl within 30 minutes. Check the toilet for worn out, corroded or bent parts. Most replacement parts are inexpensive, readily available and easily installed. (Flush as soon as test is done, since food coloring may stain tank.)
  • If the toilet handle frequently sticks in the flush position letting water run constantly, replace or adjust it.
  • Replace an old toilet with a new 1.6 gallon-per-flush model (this can save a typical household from 7,900 to 21,700 gallons of water per year).
  • Repair dripping faucets and leaking toilets, usually caused by flapper valves in need of replacement (this can save more than 10 gallons of water per person per day; a faucet dripping at one drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons per year).
  • Verify that your home is leak free. Many homes have hidden water leaks. Read your water meter before and after a two-hour period when no water is being used. If the meter does not read exactly the same, there is a leak.
  • When washing dishes by hand, fill one sink or basin with soapy water and a second sink or basin with rinse water. If additional rinsing is needed, quickly rinse under a slow-moving stream from the faucet.
  • When replacing an older washing or dishwashing machine, consider high-efficiency models, which use an average of 30 percent less water and 40 to 50 percent less energy, and models that allow you to choose how much water to use (this can save about nine gallons per washing machine cycle and 7.5 gallons per dishwasher cycle).
  • Wash clothes and use the dishwasher only when you have a full load and set it to use the minimum amount of water required.
  • Take quick showers (this can save an average of 20 gallons of water).
  • Turn off the water when brushing teeth or shaving (this can save more than five gallons per day).
  • Do not use running water to thaw meat or other frozen foods. Defrost food overnight in the refrigerator or use the defrost setting on your microwave.
  • Store drinking water in the refrigerator. Don't let the tap run while you are waiting for cool water to flow. -- Wash fruits and vegetables in a basin. Use a vegetable brush to clean produce.
  • Place a bucket in the shower to catch excess water and use this to water plants. The same technique can be used when washing dishes or vegetables in the sink.
  • Never pour water down the drain when there may be another use for it such as watering a plant or garden, or for cleaning around your home.
  • Kitchen sink disposals require lots of water to operate properly. Start a compost pile as an alternate method of disposing of food waste, instead of using a garbage disposal. Garbage disposals also can add 50 percent to the volume of solids in the sewer system or it can lead to problems with a septic tank.
  • Install low-flow, water-efficient showerheads and faucets (this can save one to 7.5 gallons per minute) and/or retrofit all household faucets by installing aerators with flow restrictors to slow the flow of water.
  • Insulate your water pipes. You'll get hot water faster and avoid wasting water while it heats up.
  • Consider installing an instant water heater on your kitchen sink so you don't have to let the water run while it heats up. This will reduce water-heating costs for your household.
  • Wash vehicles only when needed. When washing the car, use soap and water from a bucket. Use a hose with a shut-off nozzle for the final rinse.
  • Use a broom when cleaning your driveway.

In the event local water supplies become contaminated, people should also consider:

  • Using alcohol-based, waterless hand sanitation products to clean their hands. These are readily available at local grocery and drug stores.
  • Using bottled water for drinking water.
  • Boiling water before using it to wash dishes.

In addition to the recommendations above, schools, businesses and other institutions could also consider undertaking the following recommendations:

  • Educate students and faculty on water conservation measures. Post signs in restrooms to conserve water use and minimize the time faucets are allowed to run.
  • Turn off food preparation faucets that are not in use. Consider installing foot triggers.
  • Consider using automatic shut-off faucets at bar sinks. -- Adjust ice machines to dispense less ice if it is being wasted.
  • Set urinals with programmatic automatic flush valves to a water-saving mode that flushes the urinal after more than one use.
  • Replace urinals with waterless models.
  • Replace urinals with low-volume models. Urinals can use as much as five gallons per flush, while low-volume urinals use only one gallon per flush.
  • Shut off water supply to equipment and areas that are unused. -- Change window-cleaning schedule from "periodic" to "as required."
  • Wash exterior windows with a bucket and squeegee rather than powerwashing.

As for the wastewater treatment facilities themselves, they may want to consider advising their consumers to move much of their water usage -- such as flushing toilets, doing laundry and washing dishes -- to off-peak hours whenever possible, such as during the evening hours if their area's peak hours occur during the day due to business demand.

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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