Water conservation – harder than it sounds

Denver Water, the county and city of Denver’s water utility, has an extensive water conservation campaign. This is because, like many areas around the nation, Denver’s population is growing but it’s water sources aren’t.

Benjamin and I have been doing our part for a while now. Last year we bought a high efficiency washer and dryer when we moved into the new house. Living in a townhouse we don’t have much of a yard (no grass at all) but we do have some raised beds for flowers and vegetables. The previous owners installed a time-controlled watering system for those beds which we use during the summer. Our house was built in 2005 so it has low-flow toilets. We run the dishwasher only when full.

The last bastion of water wastage in our house is the shower. We use between 2000 and 3000 gallons of water a month and I believe around 1000 of that is from our shower usage. Benjamin likes to take longer showers and while he’s flexed on just about every other aspect of my environmentalist agenda, taking shorter showers is just isn’t in the cards. After some cajoling/sweet talking/bribing I was able to talk him into letting me replace our 2.5 gal/min shower head with a 1.5 gal/min shower head. He wasn’t happy about it but I promised him that I would never again bring up his longer-than-I-think-are-necessary showers if he’d let me install it.

As a bonus the new shower head has a pause feature allowing for Navy showers. No, when the button is pushed your shower stall does not fill with hot navy sailors — instead the flow of water either stops or the flow is significantly reduced. According to the package the pause button was suppose to stop all water flow but in reality it just reduces it down to a mere dribble.

My back-of-the-envelope calculations says that without the use of the pause button the new shower head is conserving around 390 gallons of water a month (estimated 13 minutes of shower for both people per day and changing from 2.5 to 1.5 gal/min flow) — and that’s a pretty conservative estimate. With my use of the pause button we probably shave another 45 gallons/month beyond that for a total savings of 435 — or about 45% savings total.

There was an interesting article last month in the WSJ that talks about shower water conservation and the resistance to it.

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I'm a gay geek living in Seattle, WA.

7 thoughts on “Water conservation – harder than it sounds”

  1. Just this morning I took a long hot wasteful shower, though I don’t let the head go at its maximum 2.5gpm since I find that too hard a spray.

    “Used” shower water, though, is treated and put back into the water supply basically where it came from. Natural gas that is burned to heat my house is gone forever (though I don’t know how to convert the gas used for heating water into how much heat it would provide for the house). If I took shorter showers in the winter I’d definitely have to heat the whole house more… but all I wanted warm was my bathroom, for the 10-20 minutes I was in it.

    So I’m a little dubious about the value conserving water that isn’t used on lawn maintenance (where it is wasted, since it ends up in the air instead of in the sewer system).


    1. Hi Matt (I’m guessing it’s Matt and not Zach :)

      While it’s true that water that goes into the sewer system can be recycled, recycling the water isn’t free. It requires energy to clean it up enough for not-potable landscaping purposes (which Denver does and my neighborhood parks are watered with) and even more energy to cycle it all the way back into our potable water system. So even in non-drought areas consider conserving water an extension of conserving energy. Moreover I expect that the wastewater-to-drinking-water cycle is not 100% efficient resulting in evaporation or lossage during the reclamation process.


      1. Oops, didn’t realize I wasn’t logged in.

        True, there is some energy. In terms of low-hanging fruit, watering a lawn is easily 10k gallons per month or more in places like Austin. That’s well over half the summer usage (when the water table is low already).

        From your personal use, the shower was the next target. For the average resident, if you could just get people to accept a brown lawn, no lawn, or the right type of grass for the climate, that is really where the challenge is. Especially since, lawns being visible, there’s a matter of personal feelings of adequacy and what will the neighbors think that happens.


  2. First, R wants to take away the TP and now you want to cut my shower time!! I’m with Benjamin!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Merry Christmas!!


  3. another tip

    From Meg:

    Also cool are the toilets that you select the flush amount — for solid or liquid waste. Home Depot carries these now. I’ve seen them in Europe and New Zealand years back.


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