Margo True

The Uvas Reservoir, in Santa Clara County, California. Photograph by

As this big, bad drought continues to parch the West, landlords might raise rents to cover rising water costs, or ask tenants to pay their water bills directly. It won't be conscience alone that motivates us renters to save water, but our budgets, too. Even though I don't have a lawn to stop watering, I've found other ways of saving gallons of water too.

1. Take really fast showers. Water flows from an average showerhead at a rate of 2 to 2½ gallons per minute. Borrow a tip from the Navy: Get thoroughly wet, turn off the water, and soap up. Then rinse. If that seems too hard-core, at least stick a bucket under the faucet while the water heats up. Use that water to flush your toilet or water your plants.

2. Turn off the tap when you brush your teeth. Fill a half-glass of water and use that to wet your toothbrush and rinse when you’re done.

3. Flush less often (the average toilet uses 5 gallons per flush). Remember the adage of the 1970s, the last time we had to seriously ration water (hint: It rhymes). Also, ask your landlord to consider installing a “low-flush” toilet, which uses 1 to 2 gallons per flush.

4. If you have a dishwasher, fill it to the brim. Running it half-empty wastes water. Also, a full dishwasher uses less water, arguably, than handwashing the same amount of dishes under a running faucet. If you don’t have a dishwasher, fill a bowl with hot sudsy water for washing, and another with pure hot water for rinsing.

5. Check for leaks. Even a little dribble can add up to a lot of water wasted, so it’s a good idea to check around the toilet and under the kitchen sink. Alert your landlord immediately if you find any trickles or wet spots.

And a bonus tip: Keep a water diary for a couple of days, to track the length of your showers and how often you flush. To put things in perspective, in Africa, the average water usage per family is 5 gallons a day. In America, it’s 176 gallons per person.

Once you see how much you’re using and where, it’s easier to cut back. Good luck. We're all in this together.

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