Americans can be clueless when it comes to water, a survey says
A new study looked at how much water Americans think they use. It turns out we use twice the amount of water we think we do. We are particularly clueless about how much water we flush down the toilet each day.
The study also found that Americans barely know how much water goes into growing food.
Shahzeen Attari is a professor at Indiana University. She wrote the study. In general, she found people guessed their water use wrong by a lot.
One-thousand-twenty people answered questions for the survey.
The study comes at an important time. The country is in the middle of a national drought. An area from the Pacific Coast to part of the Mississippi Valley has not gotten enough rain. California has had the worst of it.
Don't Know Low-Flow Toilets
Attari wrote that most Americans figure we'll always have a lot of water. They also expect that water will be safe to use. She says that climate change affects that. The earth is getting hotter. Many scientists blame all the oil, gas and coal we burn. Attari believes climate change will make our supply of water less steady. It is also means there's more salt in groundwater now. And rainfall is more unpredictable. These problems may mean less water for farming or drinking.
Other studies have shown that toilets use a huge amount of water. More than a quarter of water used in homes is caused by flushing. Environmental experts who work for the U.S. government want to reduce that amount. They want people put in toilets that conserve water. These are called low-flow toilets. They say this will save the most water in homes. Yet almost none of the adults in the survey realized this.
“That to me was really surprising.” Attari said. “We may be underestimating how much water toilets use, because we use them frequently throughout the day.”
Most toilets use about 3.5 gallons of water per flush. A low-flow toilet uses just 1.6 gallons or less.
People should also flush less often Attari says. That would also decrease the amount of water used in the home, she said. "If it’s yellow, let it mellow," she recommends. Only solid waste needs to be flushed right away, she says.
Washers And Showers
Experts say the next greatest water saver is a better clothes washer. A typical washer opens from the top. Those models use about 34 gallons per load. But, a washer that opens from the front will use less than 15 gallons.
The survey asked people what one thing people could do to save the most water. Almost half got it wrong. Roughly four out of 10 people surveyed said that taking fewer, or shorter, showers would save the most water.
Attari said that taking shorter showers would help to save water. However, the savings would be less than many people think.
The average length of a shower is about 8 minutes, Attari said. So, people could take just 5 minute showers. But, that would save only about one-twelfth of your total water use in the home, she said.
Peter Gleick is a water expert. He counted how much water humans need for their basic needs. Thirteen gallons a day would be enough, he said. In 2005, the average American actually used about 98 gallons a day.
"Paying More Attention"
However, people aren't just wrong about their own use of water. They have no idea much water is used to grow food.
The survey asked respondents to guess how much water was used to produce a pound of food. They were asked about sugar, rice, cheese and coffee. Most people said it took about the same amount of water for each.
In fact, each needs vastly different amounts of water: 157 gallons were required to make a pound of sugar. A pound of rice takes 299 gallons. To make a pound of cheese takes 606 gallons. The biggest water hog is coffee. It takes 2,264 gallons to grow one pound.
“We need to start paying more attention to water just in general,” Attari said.