Drought a wakeup call
Conservation efforts should always be used
Kelly Kennedy, Special to The Denver Post
Tuesday, May 14, 2002 - Colorado officials are talking water restrictions as they face their
driest year since 1954, but conservationists have a question:
Why aren't people already limiting their water use?
"It's something folks should be doing all year," said Brad Lundahl, chief of water conservation
and drought planning for the Colorado Water Conservation Board. "Most of the time, when it's
raining, people aren't paying attention to their water use. A drought is a sad way to get their
Every drop that goes down the drain while waiting for a cold glass of water, every bit sprayed
on a sidewalk by faulty sprinklers and every bucketful that speeds toward a gutter during a car
wash is wasted. And, as Colorado's population grows and water resources remain the same,
competition over those resources could cause strife.
"As we become more urbanized, we forget where our water comes from," Lundahl said. "It
just comes from a tap. We take water for granted."
But with all the talk of water used for landscaping - 70 percent of Denver's water usage in the
summer - does it really matter if people turn off the water while they brush their teeth?
Sixty-five percent of all water used in Denver is by households, with 21 percent used by
business and industry, 9 percent by public agencies, and 6 percent is unaccounted for, according
to Denver Water.
"We do have some wonderful results," said Liz Gardener, Denver Water's water conservation
manager. "All those things people do really do make a difference."
For example, if one person turns off the water while she brushes her teeth every day for a
year, she'll save 3,942 gallons of water.
But other countries have proven water conservation can be done better: The average
American uses 166 gallons of water per person per day. In Switzerland, that number drops to
77 gallons, according to Denver Water statistics. Those figures include water used to produce
food, to process the fuel used for transportation or to manufacture clothing, so many
conservationists suggest restricting drive time, material acquisition and eating things that take a lot
of water to process, such as meat.
In Denver, the average household uses 500 gallons per day, according to a study conducted
last year by Denver Water. Gardener said 100 homes were monitored to find out how people
"The biggie (in Denver) is showering," she said. "In college we used to say, "Save water:
Shower with a friend.' Well, many of us use the shower for something other than hygiene. It is
not hydrotherapy. It is not a place to hide from your kids. If you shower one minute less a day,
you would save 2,400 gallons a year."
She advises five-minute showers. The average Denver scrub takes eight minutes, according to
last year's study.
She does not advise using the toilet to flush spiders, or Kleenex, or gum, or bits of string or
"Using 4.5 gallons of water to bury a spider is a complete and total waste," she said. "There
are a lot of really easy things you can do to save water, and there are some more difficult ones."
Bigger changes can mean installing aerators on sink faucets and growing a plot of bluegrass
rather than a full yard. She recommends using natural vegetation or drought-resistant grasses for
the rest of the yard.
Charles Olmsted, professor of environmental studies at the University of Northern Colorado,
said the most difficult change might be a lifestyle change.
"I think it'd be great if we were thoughtful about using water all year long," said Olmstead,
who teaches a sustainable-living course. "I do think we make a difference as individuals."
But he said many people are enticed by advertising and media that make them feel they deserve
more and with the least effort possible.
"We need to integrate a whole series of changes to live more compatibly with our life-support
system," he said. "Our society treats the planet as though it's infinite. Periodically, a drought . . .
slaps us in the face and we think, I hope this doesn't affect me too much, but we don't make a
connection between that and our day-to-day living. The issue is, do we see it as a short-term
inconvenience, or do we see it as the writing on the wall?
"There are a whole range of ways people could change, but first they need to recognize that
the resource is not renewable or is slowly renewable. That doesn't mean I don't think you can't
live a satisfying life - I sure don't miss mowing the lawn."
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