We Need Water!
As this long, intensely hot summer takes its toll, we all gain a new appreciation for the relief that water provides. Even though our population continues to grow and the demands we make on our lakes and aquifers increase each year, the long-sighted folks that built the Highland Lakes and our modern infrastructure created enough of a supply that we can still support our communities. But it’s becoming increasingly important that we all reduce water waste and find ways to make the most of the water that we do have. We’ve collected a few ideas to get you started.
Saving Water — Easy and Smart
We’re in the middle of what may become the hottest summer on record, and one of the most significant drought events in modern times. As the population of our area grows, more pressure is put on our resources, and conservation is becoming more important. Fortunately, saving water is easy! Here are some ideas:
- Don't wash your dishes. Modern dishwashers are highly efficient, and Energy Star-rated dishwashers use only 4 gallons per cycle, about the amount of water it takes to fill up the kitchen sink. But if you use tap water to wash dishes before you put them in the dishwasher, you can easily double or triple that amount. Scrape plates into the trash, then just place the dirty dishes straight into the dishwasher.
- Install an instant water heater near the kitchen sink. You won't have to wait for hot water, which means you won't have to run the tap as you wait for the water to warm.
- Never throw out ice cubes. If you have leftover ice in your glass, place the ice cubes in a house plant to give it a cool drink.
- Install motion detector faucets in the kitchen and bathroom to save water that’s wasted while you are lathering your hands.
- Plan meals ahead so you can thaw foods in the refrigerator or microwave instead of under running water.
- Install a low flow toilet — you can save a gallon or more with each flush. A less expensive alternative is to fill a plastic bottle full of water and set it in the tank, cutting down the amount of water required to refill the tank after each flush.
- Don't let the water run while you are brushing your teeth, shaving, etc.
- If your shower fills a gallon bucket in less than 20 seconds, consider installing a water efficient shower head; they can save hundreds of gallons each month.
- Add liquid food coloring to the toilet tank. Come back an hour or so later, and check to see if the water in the bowl has changed color. If it has, you have a leak that needs to be repaired.
- Install a rain barrel. Even a small amount of rain can fill up a 50 gallon barrel, enough to water your garden for days or weeks.
- Make sure that your sprinklers are being used to the best possible advantage. Don't water the sidewalk or the driveway – adjust the nozzles to make sure that all of the water remains on the lawn.
- Shrubs and other plants use less water, on average, than your lawn. Consider building beds and adding low water plants to your landscape.
- Compost saves water. Take kitchen scraps (no meat or animal products) out to the composter instead of running them through the garbage disposal, saving water and money while adding moisture and nutrients to the soil.
- Plant drought-tolerant grass. Several varieties are available, and you can see examples of each at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, where you can also get all kinds of information on “xeriscaping” – landscaping using low-water plants.
- Monitor your water bill. If the amount of water you use increases significantly from month to month, it could be an indication of a hidden leak somewhere inside your house.
- Water in the late evening or early morning to get the maximum benefit and reduce evaporation.
- Change the setting on your lawn mower to leave the grass taller. This can prevent moisture loss and improve the root structure, reducing the amount of water your lawn needs to stay healthy.
- Hidden leaks in your sprinkler system can waste thousands of gallons, but are not as easily detected as leaks in the house. Check your sprinkler system every few months for leaks, and inspect the sprinkler heads.
- Water the kids while you water the lawn. If the kids want to play in the sprinklers, have them do it when your lawn needs deep watering.
- Cover your swimming pool when not in use. Hundreds of gallons per month can be lost due to evaporation.
- If you're in the market for a new clothes washer, consider a front loader. Front-loading machines use about half of the water that top-loading machines do, and about 20% of indoor water use comes from doing laundry.
- Run the dishwasher only when you have a full load.
- When you're cleaning the fish tank, make sure to empty the used water in the garden. The plants will love this nutrient-rich drink.
- Approximately 14% of all domestic water use in the United States is lost to leaks. Make sure you check under sinks and examine the faucets themselves for leaks.
Sidebar of Related Information
Garden Planning for Water Conservation
Plants can have widely varying water needs. The types of plants you choose for your landscaping can have an enormous impact on the amount of water you consume. Here are some low water plants that do very well in our hot, dry climate. You can find information about these plants — and many more — at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
- Bigtooth Maple — the namesake of Lost Maples State Park, these trees boast beautiful fall colors and grow about 50 ft. tall.
- Texas Red Oak — also about 50 ft. in height, the foliage of these trees turns bright red in autumn.
- Anacacho Orchid — delicate white flowers and silvery bark make this a beautiful landscape tree.
- Crepe Myrtle — this ubiquitous small tree produces an abundance of pink or white “flowers,” even in hot weather.
- Possumhaw Holly — bright red berries adorn the slender branches of this tree in winter, providing food for birds and other wildlife.
- Yaupon Holly — an evergreen bush that produces bright red berries in late summer and fall.
- Pomegranate — the fruit of this tree ripens in the fall: a leathery skin surrounding tart, dark-red seeds, famous for abundant antioxidants.
- Mexican Plum — this tree provides beautiful, fragrant, white blooms in the spring and dark red fruits in the fall, perfect for jellies and jams.
- Mountain Laurel — when walking along streets in the Hill Country in early spring, you may wonder why everything smells like grape candy; this tree produces cascades of light purple flowers that fill the air with this unusual fragrance.
- Rose — several types of roses do very well in our climate, including “knockout” varieties.
- Rosemary — this prolific herb is perfect for areas with little shade.
- Sage — there are many varieties of this plant, featuring flowers of every color; it reseeds itself and can become invasive.